Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

UNRULY WATERS: How Mountain Rivers and Monsoons Have Shaped South Asia’s History

  • Written by  Geordie Torr
  • Published in Books
UNRULY WATERS: How Mountain Rivers and Monsoons Have Shaped South Asia’s History
07 Feb
2019
by Sunil Amrith • Allen Lane • £25 (hardback)

Unruly Waters is a history of the Indian subcontinent (and, to a lesser extent, China) as seen through a watery lens. Author Sunil Amrith, a Harvard University history professor, takes as his starting point the centrality of water to Indian life, and identifies the unpredictability of the monsoon as the dominant theme of India’s history of development. Until recently, its failure and consequent drought inevitably led to devastating famine, which prompted the two intersecting lines of action that dominate the book – attempts to better understand and forecast the monsoon itself, and attempts to ameliorate the effects of its failure.

The latter plays out as a familiar tale of hubris, of the folly of man’s desire to control nature generally and water specifically, of a slavish devotion to technological solutions, the bigger the better. From colonial times to the present day, successive governments have promised to solve the monsoon problem and improve India’s food security using irrigation schemes, river diversions, mega-dams and groundwater extraction. But of course each new ‘solution’ brings its own new problems: siltation, water-borne disease, cross-border conflict, lowering water tables and the displacement of populations (between independence and the present day, an estimated 40 million people have been chased from their homes by dams in India) to name but a few.

Looming over it all, inevitably, is the spectre of climate change. Just as scientists were beginning to understand the forces that drive the monsoon and their effects on its intensity – and began to get closer to the Holy Grail of accurate forecasting – the increasing build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threw the whole system out of whack, bringing new levels of unpredictability and ramping up the extremes of drought and flood.

With many more mega-dams in the works, coastal construction continuing and groundwater extraction draining more and more aquifers dry, it’s clear the lessons of history haven’t been learnt.

Click here to purchase Unruly Waters by Sunil Amrith from Amazon

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

by Zoran Nikolic • Collins • £14.99 (softback)

Books

by John Haywood • Thames & Hudson • £19.95 (hardback)

Books

by Ed Stafford • White Lion Publishing • £30 (hardback/eBook)

Books

In need of inspiration? Check out Geographical’s best books of…

Books

by Rory MacLean • Bloomsbury • £20 (hardback)

Books

by David Runciman • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)

Books

Give the gift of adventure this year with these superb…

Books

by David Sim • Island Press • £26 (paperback)

Books

by Tamin Ansary • Public Affairs • £21.99 (hardback)

Books

DK • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Philip Marsden • Granta • £20 (hardback)

Books

by James Lovelock • Allen Lane • £14.99 (hardback)

Exhibitions

The largest collection of treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb ever to…

Films

Fresh from an award-winning screening at the Sundance Film Festival…

Films

The inside story about The Cave – the first feature…

Books

by Laura Waters • Affirm Press (via bookdepository.com) • £16.61 (paperback)

Books

by John Halpern, MD and David Blistein • Hachette Book…

Books

by Gavin Thurston • Seven Dials • £16.99 (hardback)