Many of the world’s major cities sprang up on the banks of rivers. Used for water, food, irrigation, transportation and power, rivers sustain life and connect places and countries, but most of us think of them simply as waterways that must be crossed on the way to somewhere else. Relating the biographies of four European and two North American rivers, A Story of Six Rivers considers the place of rivers in our world and emphasizes the inextricable links between their history, culture and ecology.
This book gives voice to six bodies of water: the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe; the Spree, which flows through Berlin; the Po, which cuts eastward across northern Italy; the Mersey in northwest England; the Yukon, which runs through Canada and Alaska; and the Los Angeles River in California. Rivers nurture us, provide cultural and economic opportunities and pose threats to our everyday lives. Though recent narratives paint rivers as the victims of abuse, pollution and damage at the hands of humans, this book focuses on change rather than devastation. Though humans and rivers form a symbiotic – and sometimes mutually destructive – relationship, rivers also illustrate the limits of human authority, and their capacity to inspire us is as strong as our ability to pollute them.
An intimate portrait of the way these watercourses inform our lives, A Story of Six Rivers will make us reconsider the liquid ribbons we traverse each day.
‘a refreshing look at the dynamic relationships between humans and river and nature and society. Highly recommended.’ – Choice
‘Coates offers something new: an environmental history perspective that consistently underscores the continuous fusion of history, culture and ecology . . . Among the all-too-common dystopian visions of humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature, Coates delivers an altogether more positive and hopeful message.’ – BBC History Magazine
‘. . . well written, well illustrated and well balanced in terms of presenting the reader with necessary empirical material while injecting some theoretical rigour in the introduction.’ – History Today
‘A lyrical writer of history, Peter Coates approaches his topics in a creative fashion that rarely disappoints. His books often appear more the product of an inspired writer than an antiquarian historian and, as such, they possess an energy and passion that is unique. A Story of Six Rivers leaps from an existing historical literature – one that explores rivers as a landscape and an economic construct defining cities, regions, and nations – to tell, rather selectively, a series of in-depth stories. To do so, Coates literally and figuratively dangles his toes in six different waterways in order to explore an enduring connection joining humans and nature: the river . . . Teeming with images that Coates deftly interprets, this book should garner genuine interest from any reader. The true insight here, though, is an approach that others might follow – the crease cut in the river’s surface that is left behind after A Story of Six Rivers passes through.’ – Journal of Historical Geography
‘Relating the geography and ecology of four European and two North American rivers and their role in the history and culture of the regions through which they pass, A Story of Six Rivers considers the tangled interconnections between geography, history, culture and ecology.’ – Landscape History
Peter Coates is Professor of American and Environmental History at the University of Bristol and the author of many books. His previous books include Nature (2005) and Salmon (Reaktion, 2006).