In This Review

The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany
The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany
By David Blackbourn
Norton, 2006, 608 pp

This wonderfully original book "tells the story of how Germans transformed their landscape over the last two hundred years by reclaiming marsh and fen, draining moors, straightening rivers, and building dams in the high valleys." This conquest of nature was seen as a peaceful victory of science and technology; in reality it was often "the handmaiden of war." The "water wars" the book describes, even when they were not at the service of military designs, created their own conflicts: they "set rival users against each other" and local interests against larger ones, who usually prevailed. And yet, there was a broad consensus "on the underlying principle that German waters could be reshaped at will." The most impressive feature of the book is the perfect integration of history, geography, biographical information, and literature in a smooth and attractive narrative. This is a great piece of scholarship and imaginative re-creation.