"Brilliantly conceived....[A] tour de force in historical writing."—Ian Kershaw
A modern-day German magically transported back 250 years would barely recognize his own country, says Blackbourn, a professor of history at Harvard. Where today manicured fields, straight canals and windmills dominate, then the landscape was "[d]ark and waterlogged, filled with snaking channels half-hidden by overhanging lianas" and inhabited by mosquitoes, frogs, wild boar and wolves. Blackbourn investigates this remarkable feat of aquaforming as Germans sought to manacle nature by means of mammoth hydrological projects, from building dams to "remaking" the Rhine. The simple act of draining a marsh, Blackbourn points out, can be interpreted in multiple ways. Liberals saw in human mastery of the waters a shining instance of scientific rationalism-which could be applied to settling national conflicts. Conservatives thought that reclaiming marshland would provide Frederick the Great's regiments with an unimpeded line of march to the battlefront. The Nazis, too, perceived land reclamation as a duty for a "people without space." More recently, Greens have highlighted the downsides of water engineering (loss of biodiversity, pollution, overconsumption) even as its supporters trumpet its successes (free commerce, the end of malaria, control of flooding). The unique framing of Blackbourn's interpretation of German history and the lavish illustrations make this an engrossing read. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.