Writing with authority and brio, Giulio Boccaletti --honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford-- shrewdly combines environmental and social history, beginning with the earliest civilizations of sedentary farmers on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates Rivers. Even as he describes how these societies were made possible by sea-level changes from the last glacial melt, he incisively examines how this type of farming led to irrigation and multiple cropping, which, in turn, led to a population explosion and labor specialization. We see with clarity how irrigation's structure informed social structure (inventions such as the calendar sprung from agricultural necessity); how in ancient Greece, the communal ownership of wells laid the groundwork for democracy; how the Greek and Roman experiences with water security resulted in systems of taxation; and how the modern world as we know it began with a legal framework for the development of water infrastructure. Extraordinary for its monumental scope and piercing insightfulness, Water: A Biography richly enlarges our understanding of our relationship to --and fundamental reliance on-- the most elemental substance on earth.
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