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
Majestic and lyrically written, The Conquest of Nature traces the rise of Germany through the development of water and landscape. David Blackbourn begins his morality tale in the mid-1700s, with the epic story of Frederick the Great, who attempted—by importing the great scientific minds of the West and by harnessing the power of his army—to transform the uninhabitable marshlands of his scattered kingdom into a modern state. Chronicling the great engineering projects that reshaped the mighty Rhine, the emergence of an ambitious German navy, and the development of hydroelectric power to fuel Germany's convulsive industrial growth before World War I, Blackbourn goes on to show how Nazi racial policies rested on German ideas of mastery of the natural world. Filled with striking reproductions of paintings, maps, and photographs, this grand work of modern history links culture, politics, and the environment in an exploration of the perils faced by nations that attempt to conquer nature.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
There have been numerous books chronicling Germany's development as a nation, but we think this landmark study by British historian David Blackbourn approaches the subject from an original and richly rewarding angle. The author claims that modern Germany is the result of three centuries of engineering regional water sources, a process of altering the landscape by "aquaforming." From Frederick the Great's Englightenment-inspired plans to cultivate and improve waterways to the Third Reich's obsession with imposing order on the chaos of nature, this important illustrated history weaves cultural, political, and environmental history into a mesmerizing read.
Publishers Weekly
A modern-day German magically transported back 250 years would barely recognize his own country, says Blackbourn, a professor of history at Harvard. Where today manicured fields, straight canals and windmills dominate, then the landscape was "[d]ark and waterlogged, filled with snaking channels half-hidden by overhanging lianas" and inhabited by mosquitoes, frogs, wild boar and wolves. Blackbourn investigates this remarkable feat of aquaforming as Germans sought to manacle nature by means of mammoth hydrological projects, from building dams to "remaking" the Rhine. The simple act of draining a marsh, Blackbourn points out, can be interpreted in multiple ways. Liberals saw in human mastery of the waters a shining instance of scientific rationalism-which could be applied to settling national conflicts. Conservatives thought that reclaiming marshland would provide Frederick the Great's regiments with an unimpeded line of march to the battlefront. The Nazis, too, perceived land reclamation as a duty for a "people without space." More recently, Greens have highlighted the downsides of water engineering (loss of biodiversity, pollution, overconsumption) even as its supporters trumpet its successes (free commerce, the end of malaria, control of flooding). The unique framing of Blackbourn's interpretation of German history and the lavish illustrations make this an engrossing read. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329995
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/13/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 981,189
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

David Blackbourn is the Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University. His previous books include Germany in the Long Nineteenth Century and Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : nature and landscape in German history 3
1 Conquests from barbarism : Prussia in the eighteenth century 21
2 The man who tamed the wild Rhine : remaking Germany's river in the nineteenth century 77
3 Golden age : from the 1848 revolution to the 1870s 121
4 Dam-building and modern times : from the 1880s to World War Two 189
5 Race and reclamation : national socialism in Germany and Europe 251
6 Landscape and environment in the postwar Germanys 311
Epilogue : where it all began 347
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