A sweeping natural history of the world’s rivers and their ancient, complex relationship with
Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of human civilization. They
have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power,
and can capriciously destroy everything in their path. Even today, rivers remain a powerful global force—one that is
more critical than ever to our future.
In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith explores the timeless yet underappreciated relationship
between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important in many practical ways (water supply,
transportation, sanitation). But the full breadth of their influence on the way we live is less obvious. Rivers define
and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Huge volumes of river water are used to
produce energy, raw commodities, and food. Wars, politics, and demography are transformed by their devastating
floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to one another, and the migrations and
histories of their peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.
And as climate change, technology, and cities transform our relationship with nature, new opportunities are arising to
protect the waters that sustain us.
Beautifully told and expansive in scope, Rivers of Power reveals how and why rivers have so profoundly influenced
our civilization and examines the importance this vast arterial power holds for the future of humanity.