An Eco-Biography, 1815–2000
Publication Year: 2002
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Rivers are hardly a new subject for European or world history. Narratives of the earliest civilizations have more often than not centered on watercourses whose very names have become the stuff of legend: the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Yellow and the Yangtze, the Nile, the Jordan, the Ganges. ...
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The idea of writing this book first occurred to me while I was cycling in Europe several years ago. Many of Europe's bike routes are converted towpaths— relics of an era when animal muscle was needed to haul boats and barges upstream—and their close proximity to river channels makes them ideal for observing what has happened to riparian corridors over the past two centuries. ...
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The modern Rhine—"Europe's romantic sewer"—is an offspring of the French and industrial revolutions. Conceived by Napoleon and designed by engineers, the river acquired its canal-like profile during the nineteenth century. Three events in rapid succession marked its birth. ...
2. Europe's "World River"
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The Rhine is Europe's busiest waterway. As the only river linking the Alps to the North Sea, it channels the flow of trade through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The Rhine transports over 200 million metric tons of goods annually, far more cargo than is carried on any other European waterway. ...
3. Water Sorcery
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The nineteenth and twentieth centuries marked the high point of Rhine engineering. But some modest modifications did occur well before then, almost always when a powerful imperial lord, or a coterie of ambitious local rulers, ruled on its banks. ...
4. The Carboniferous Rhine
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Far more than textiles and locomotives-Lewis Mumford noted in Technics and Civilization—mining and metallurgy set the pace for modern industrial development. The use of coal as a fuel source for machine power, and the application of the steam engine to iron smelting, created the foundation for a "paleotechnic" civilization ...
5. Sacrificing a River
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The worst industrial accident in Rhine history occurred at the Sandoz chemical plant in Basel-Schweizerhalle in 1986. It began when a storage facility burst into flames shortly after midnight on November 1, igniting over a thousand metric tons of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, and other agrochemicals. ...
6. Biodiversity Lost
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The Rhine made a cameo appearance in Mary Shelley's Gothic tale, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, published in 1818. Dashing from Switzerland to Britain with a desperate scheme to create a bride for his monster, Victor Frankenstein decided to sail down the Rhine to Rotterdam and from there catch a sea vessel to London. ...
7. A River Restored?
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The towering figure of twentieth-century Rhine biology was the great naturalist Robert Lauterborn. Born in Ludwigshafen in 1869, he grew up in the shadow of the gargantuan BASF chemical factory, his hometown's most important industry and the Upper Rhine's most notorious polluter. ...
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Water has given rise to many legends over the centuries, but none more famous than the "Sorcerer's Apprentice," the quintessential cautionary tale about unintended consequences. The story line dates back to Lucian of Samosata (circa A.D. 120 -190), but its many nineteenth-century variants come from Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling (1797) and the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. ...
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Publication Year: 2002
Series Title: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
Series Editor Byline: Edited by William Cronon