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The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany

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"Brilliantly conceived....[A] tour de force in historical writing."—Ian Kershaw David Blackbourn tells the story of how the German people transformed their landscape over 250 years from a waterlogged swampland into one of the most powerful countries in the Western world. His account, in which he shows how Germans set out to "conquer" that most fundamental natural element, w "Brilliantly conceived....[A] tour de force in historical writing."—Ian Kershaw David Blackbourn tells the story of how the German people transformed their landscape over 250 years from a waterlogged swampland into one of the most powerful countries in the Western world. His account, in which he shows how Germans set out to "conquer" that most fundamental natural element, water, brings together politics, culture, economics, and ecology in a daring work of total history.


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"Brilliantly conceived....[A] tour de force in historical writing."—Ian Kershaw David Blackbourn tells the story of how the German people transformed their landscape over 250 years from a waterlogged swampland into one of the most powerful countries in the Western world. His account, in which he shows how Germans set out to "conquer" that most fundamental natural element, w "Brilliantly conceived....[A] tour de force in historical writing."—Ian Kershaw David Blackbourn tells the story of how the German people transformed their landscape over 250 years from a waterlogged swampland into one of the most powerful countries in the Western world. His account, in which he shows how Germans set out to "conquer" that most fundamental natural element, water, brings together politics, culture, economics, and ecology in a daring work of total history.

30 review for The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth Stein

    This is the second time that I've read “The Conquest of Nature.” Prof. Blackbourn does a very good job of showing how developing a mentality of converting “unusable land” to “farmland,” led to increased agricultural output. Also, how building dams led to the increased production of hydroelectric power. These are just two examples of how the actions of planners and engineers transformed the country and the mentality of its people. One could summarize this in the phrase, “what we do, we become.” “T This is the second time that I've read “The Conquest of Nature.” Prof. Blackbourn does a very good job of showing how developing a mentality of converting “unusable land” to “farmland,” led to increased agricultural output. Also, how building dams led to the increased production of hydroelectric power. These are just two examples of how the actions of planners and engineers transformed the country and the mentality of its people. One could summarize this in the phrase, “what we do, we become.” “The Conquest of Nature” has wide ranging implications for today. Anytime we attempt to transform our natural world, the results of the transformation are accompanied by the proverbial, “law of unintended consequences.” New growth, new solutions, or just trying to do something better, results in a host of new problems that makes society question the true value of the initial gain. Although Prof. Blackbourn is a historian, this is a superb book that deals with the long-term analysis of ecology, ecosystems, and its inherent relations with political science and philosophy. The reader will come away from the story with the view of seeing present day Germany in the context of “landscape is destiny.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Hastings

    This book is a superb summary of several of the major hydro-engineering projects undertaken in the last 250 years of cultural German history. David Blackbourn cushions this history of technology with a well balanced analysis - the extent to which the intended benefits were achieved, and the damage that can be caused by implementing technology before its effects are fully understood. He also describes how the social and political situations influenced the use of the technology, and how the result This book is a superb summary of several of the major hydro-engineering projects undertaken in the last 250 years of cultural German history. David Blackbourn cushions this history of technology with a well balanced analysis - the extent to which the intended benefits were achieved, and the damage that can be caused by implementing technology before its effects are fully understood. He also describes how the social and political situations influenced the use of the technology, and how the results fed back into future thinking and behavior.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Injejikian

    The author makes the relation of German waterways and geography to German history as interesting as humanly possible...3 stars for compelling thesis, but I was unfortunately still bored due to my social/intellectual historical focus. This was certainly another world for me!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    Germany, river systems, history. All good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Sojourner

    Can there be a history of nature without people? Can there be a history of people without nature? Like faces on a flipping coin, these questions returned to again and again through Blackbourn's fascinating study of the German attempts to conquer water and build a state and about the ways that nature and humanity have continuously made and remade each other there. Blackbourn marshals evidence of impressive breadth -- human and nonhuman, low and high, literary and ecological -- to tell his story, Can there be a history of nature without people? Can there be a history of people without nature? Like faces on a flipping coin, these questions returned to again and again through Blackbourn's fascinating study of the German attempts to conquer water and build a state and about the ways that nature and humanity have continuously made and remade each other there. Blackbourn marshals evidence of impressive breadth -- human and nonhuman, low and high, literary and ecological -- to tell his story, which meanders, like his riparian subjects, through the centuries and pushes us to consider that, while history may be made by people, it can (and perhaps should) be about much more.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian Blickenstaff

    This is a history of Germany as revealed by its drainage system. That might sound really boring, but it's FASCINATING. Consider that the area between roughly Basel, Mainz, Heidelberg, and Strasbourg was once basically a huge river delta, featuring hundreds of islands and a meandering Rhine, where people survived by fishing and panning for gold before it was straightened in the 1800s, the delta drained. Today it's almost entirely in agriculture and looks more like the Central Valley of California This is a history of Germany as revealed by its drainage system. That might sound really boring, but it's FASCINATING. Consider that the area between roughly Basel, Mainz, Heidelberg, and Strasbourg was once basically a huge river delta, featuring hundreds of islands and a meandering Rhine, where people survived by fishing and panning for gold before it was straightened in the 1800s, the delta drained. Today it's almost entirely in agriculture and looks more like the Central Valley of California. Blackbourn shows how these engineering projects made Germany's industrial revolution possible, and changed the political and national landscape in central Europe in the process. The amount of research on display here is staggering. The book is super readable and full of informative anecdotes. 4 stars because it got a little bogged down in the section about dam building in the 1920s.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amory

    Comprehensive and interesting. Author sometimes seems to want to make the reader feel the extent of his research, at the expense of his narrative. Also falls into some of the traps he critiques (including an exceptionally one-sided version of history featuring men as stand-ins for humans-- in 250 years of history and hundreds of character descriptions, I think he names maybe one or two women TOTAL). Overall very worth reading, especially for people interested in frontier history and ways nationa Comprehensive and interesting. Author sometimes seems to want to make the reader feel the extent of his research, at the expense of his narrative. Also falls into some of the traps he critiques (including an exceptionally one-sided version of history featuring men as stand-ins for humans-- in 250 years of history and hundreds of character descriptions, I think he names maybe one or two women TOTAL). Overall very worth reading, especially for people interested in frontier history and ways nationalism may be expressed in a landscape.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rock

    I think I read this one a bit too quickly. But hey, it really is a textbook, just thick with information. That combined with the ababab structure (i.e. this man was a proponent of this natural engineering technique, which resulted in a higher frequency of this natural disaster) made this book feel a bit like reading the same thing over and over.

  9. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    An excellent investigation of how industry and society shaped and were shaped by bodies of water in modern Germany. Starts in the 1700s and goes to the twentieth century, with really interesting sections on Frederick the Great, the reshaping of the Rhine, and how Nazi racial and environmental policy intersected.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Environmental history with a twist.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    This book was written by someone who has tenure; fantastically researched and studiously written. I loved this work even if it was not a page turner.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    German engineering at its best: taming a water system of over 350,000 square kilometres.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ron Bergquist

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joerg

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steve R

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jules Romalho

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  18. 5 out of 5

    Myles Odermann

  19. 5 out of 5

    D1055995

  20. 5 out of 5

    Magda Schmidt

  21. 5 out of 5

    Werner

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tso022

  23. 4 out of 5

    Abby Kovac

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paulina

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gundolf

  26. 5 out of 5

    Annie Ortiz

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  29. 4 out of 5

    Luke

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

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