The Conquest of Nature

I had not realized how man-made and engineered the Rhine was, and how early this occurred:

This was the largest civil engineering project that had ever been undertaken in Germany.  The Rhine between Basel and Worms was shortened from 220 to 170 miles, almost a quarter of its length.  Dozens of cuts were made, more than twenty-two hundred islands removed.  Along the stretch between Basel and Strasbourg alone, well over a billion square yards of island or peninsula were excavated and 160 miles of main dikes constructed containing 6.5 million cubic yards of material.  During the 1860s the number of fascines being used was running at up to 800,000 a year.

That is from David Blackburn’s The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany.  This history of water engineering is not a book for all of you, but if you think you might like it, you will.

Addendum: Elsewhere on the new book front, Niall Ferguson is a splendid author, but his new The War of the World doesn’t add much.


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