The source How rivers made America and America remade its rivers

Martin Doyle, 1973-

Book - 2018

A history of the role of rivers in shaping American politics, economics, and society draws on experts from diverse backgrounds to explore how the natural and human transformations of rivers have made a significant impact on the nation.

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New York : W. W. Norton & Company [2018]
First edition
Physical Description
349 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 313-334) and index.
Main Author
Martin Doyle, 1973- (author)
  • Part one: Federalism. Navigating the republic ; Life on the Mississippi ; The rise of the levees ; Flood control
  • Part two: Sovereignty and property. Water wars ; A new water market
  • Part three: Taxation. Running water ; Burning rivers
  • Part four: Regulation. Regulating power ; The power of a river
  • Part five: Conservation. Channelization ; The restoration economy.
Review by Booklist Reviews

The lyrics of "America the Beautiful" eminently praise the country's purple mountains and waves of grain but say nothing of its more than three-million miles of flowing rivers. Yet as Duke University environmental science professor Doyle observes in this informative look at the history and management of the nation's waterways, rivers like the Hudson, Mississippi, and Potomac have played indispensable roles not only in creating state boundaries and port cities but also in establishing a thriving federal economy. Covering a broad sweep of American history, Doyle peers back at seminal river-related milestones, such as the Gold Rush launch in 1848 and Hoover Dam's construction during the Depression. The author also sorts through the tangle of regulations and resource management policies that have affected how river water is channeled to businesses and consumers, leading at times to some bitter fights over who controls which parts of which rivers, since, unlike drawing land borders, "dividing water is not intuitive." Readers interested in everything from American history to business, engineering, environmental concerns, and canoeing will find Doyle's work absorbing and educational. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Doyle (director, Water Policy Program, Nicolas Inst. for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke Univ.) provides readers with an environmental history of the United States using the country's several rivers as his guide. Many connections between the earliest years of this nation and her rivers display how these waterways shaped politics, society, and the economy. Chapter titles such as "Navigating the Republic," "The Rise of the Levees," and "Water Wars" nicely organize the text. Important events, such as the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers; how city governments took over sewers and waste management; the building of the Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the devastating failure of the New Orleans' levees during Hurricane Katrina are tracked and examined. Doyle also interviews people who live their lives around water, including a tugboat captain and a rancher trying to obtain water rights. Images and diagrams of how some of these waterways were rerouted help readers envision the drastic changes. VERDICT Recommended for fans of U.S. environmental history, especially as it relates to rivers.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Doyle, professor of river science and policy at Duke University, pays tribute to America's waterways in this worthy history, noting their importance to the country's development and its basic identity. Covering such topics as trade, politics, and environmentalism, Doyle looks at how the Erie Canal, for example, helped facilitate trade and commerce between the North Atlantic coast and the "burgeoning West." The "once obscure towns" of Syracuse, Utica, Rochester, and Buffalo developed as "hubs of nineteenth-century manufacturing and industrialization," while New York City became an entry point for European "immigrants heading toward America's interior." Doyle then turns his attention to the Mississippi River and the establishment of levee systems and flood controls along it. His discussions with Mississippi River towboat pilot Donnie Randleman and towboat captain Robert "Howdy" Duty add color and character to the narrative. Doyle rounds out this volume by examining ways in which Americans have altered rivers over the years. Gross and negligent pollution of industrial waterways—one result of which was that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio infamously burned in 1969—would eventually give rise to movements for river conservation and restoration. Doyle tackles the shifts in how America has viewed and used its extensive waterways, producing a comprehensive and enjoyable account. Illus. (Feb.) Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A history of the role of rivers in shaping American politics, economics, and society draws on experts from diverse backgrounds to explore how the natural and human transformations of rivers have made a significant impact on the nation.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An environmental history of the role of rivers in shaping American politics, economics and society touches on subjects ranging from conservation and the New Deal to the Hoover Dam and Hurricane Katrina, drawing on experts from diverse backgrounds to explore how the natural and human transformations of rivers have made a significant impact on the nation.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A specialist in river science and water policy, Doyle traces the history of rivers in the US through political, demographic technological, and economic aspects. In sections on federalism, sovereignty and property, taxation, regulation, and conservation he covers navigating the republic, life on the Mississippi, the rise of the levees, flood control, water wars, a new water market, running water, burning rivers, regulating power, the power of a river, channelization, and the restoration economy. Annotation ©2018 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 4

An Amazon Best Book of the YearHow rivers have shaped American politics, economics, and society from the beginnings of the Republic to today.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

America has more than 250,000 rivers, coursing over more than 3 million miles, connecting the disparate regions of the United States. On a map they can look like the veins, arteries, and capillaries of a continent-wide circulatory system, and in a way they are. Over the course of this nation’s history rivers have served as integral trade routes, borders, passageways, sewers, and sinks. Over the years, based on our shifting needs and values, we have harnessed their power with waterwheels and dams, straightened them for ships, drained them with irrigation canals, set them on fire, and even attempted to restore them.In this fresh and powerful work of environmental history, Martin Doyle tells the epic story of America and its rivers, from the U.S. Constitution’s roots in interstate river navigation, the origins of the Army Corps of Engineers, the discovery of gold in 1848, and the construction of the Hoover Dam and the TVA during the New Deal, to the failure of the levees in Hurricane Katrina and the water wars in the west. Along the way, he explores how rivers have often been the source of arguments at the heart of the American experiment—over federalism, sovereignty and property rights, taxation, regulation, conservation, and development.Through his encounters with experts all over the country—a Mississippi River tugboat captain, an Erie Canal lock operator, a dendrochronologist who can predict the future based on the story trees tell about the past, a western rancher fighting for water rights—Doyle reveals the central role rivers have played in American history—and how vital they are to its future.