A Harvard history professor and MacArthur Fellow reimagines Asia's history through the stories of its rains, rivers, coasts, and seas—and of the weather-watchers and engineers, mapmakers and farmers who have sought to control them.
Mr. Amrith has written a marvelous—and marvelously ambitious—book that sets out to explain how water has shaped the history of Asia. In truth, his narrative is centered on the Indian subcontinent, despite its insightful forays into China’s hydraulic history ... Mr. Amrith begins with a useful geography lesson ... He then proceeds to show what man—through modern history—has done to harness the rivers to his ends ... With finesse, the author dwells on the symbolism of dams in India ... Alongside a broader distribution of water and electricity has come a wrenching disfigurement of the environment and the squalid effects of overuse.
...stimulating, urgent ... Much of India’s recent history of water resources is a tale of how they were handled under British rule ... Amrith’s judgement on this imperial legacy is strikingly relevant today ... histories of this kind are needed more than ever. Political, economic and historical discourse cannot just linger on statecraft and strategy, alliances and migrations, trade and war. Increasingly, the environment is central—and its role needs to be understood not through sweeping, Wittfogel-style theses, but with the kind of attention to local detail and nuance that Amrith exhibits.
A real strength of the narrative is the explanation of how events in India had ripple effects throughout Asia and beyond ... An enjoyable read for those interested in modern Asian history, and an essential text for Indian history enthusiasts.