Before the Deluge: The Vanishing World of the Yangtze's Three Gorges

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Before the Deluge: The Vanishing World of the Yangtze's Three Gorges

By Deirdre Chetham
Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
320 pp. $24.95

In 2003, China's Three Gorges Dam began filling a reservoir that by 2008 will be 360 miles long and 574 feet deep, the largest man-made body of water in the world. Some 1.2 million people will be forced to relocate, entire cities will be submerged, and large ships will be able to travel 1,700 miles into the Chinese interior. The dam is the world's largest, and it generates as much electricity as ten large nuclear or coal-fired power plants. At a cost of $22 billion, it was also the most expensive public-works project in Chinese history.

Chetham's interesting book describes the long history of the plan to dam the vital but turbulent Yangtze River. The idea was proposed as early as 1919 and received major impetus from the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the 1940s. Chetham bases her account on discussions she had with residents and local officials in the Yangtze valley. She focuses on the hopes and fears related to this grand project and on the practical challenges and early missteps of relocating so many people.

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