The Source

How Rivers Made America and America Remade Its Rivers

Martin Doyle (Author)


How rivers have shaped American politics, economics, and society from the beginnings of the Republic to today.

America has more than 250,000 rivers, coursing over more than 3 million miles, connecting the disparate regions of the United States. On a map they can look like the veins, arteries, and capillaries of a continent-wide circulatory system, and in a way they are. Over the course of this nation’s history rivers have served as integral trade routes, borders, passageways, sewers, and sinks. Over the years, based on our shifting needs and values, we have harnessed their power with waterwheels and dams, straightened them for ships, drained them with irrigation canals, set them on fire, and even attempted to restore them.

In this fresh and powerful work of environmental history, Martin Doyle tells the epic story of America and its rivers, from the U.S. Constitution’s roots in interstate river navigation, the origins of the Army Corps of Engineers, the discovery of gold in 1848, and the construction of the Hoover Dam and the TVA during the New Deal, to the failure of the levees in Hurricane Katrina and the water wars in the west. Along the way, he explores how rivers have often been the source of arguments at the heart of the American experiment—over federalism, sovereignty and property rights, taxation, regulation, conservation, and development.

Through his encounters with experts all over the country—a Mississippi River tugboat captain, an Erie Canal lock operator, a dendrochronologist who can predict the future based on the story trees tell about the past, a western rancher fighting for water rights—Doyle reveals the central role rivers have played in American history—and how vital they are to its future.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • February 2018
  • ISBN 978-0-393-24235-5
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 352 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“A vigorous look at American history through the nation’s waterways…Doyle speaks well to issues that are as pressing today as in the first years of the republic.” — Kirkus Reviews

The Source is one of those rare books you look up from and see with fresh eyes. Martin Doyle takes us on an epic national and historical river trip to remind us that America’s watercourses are one of our original entry points to the continent, that we are by now engaged with them in an almost bewildering litany of ways, and that we should never get so wrapped around modern life that we forget this truth: we are still river rats.” — Dan Flores, author of Coyote America

“If you want to understand politics, follow the money. But if you want to understand the myriad ways in which land shapes society and society reshapes the land, follow the rivers. That’s what Martin Doyle has done in The Source, and the result is a penetrating and gracefully written portrait of Americans’ restless relationship with their sublimely beautiful continent.” — William deBuys, author of The Last Unicorn

“Brilliantly conceived, The Source is a unique synthesis that recasts American history and flows with the power of unexpected insight.” — David R. Montgomery, author of Growing A Revolution

“Move over Cadillac Desert and The Last Oasis; a new classic on American rivers has arrived. One of the world’s leading authorities on hydrology, Martin Doyle shows how rivers have served as the arteries and veins of the United States since the country’s very founding. It is a rich history both impressive and unsettling.” — James Salzman, author of Drinking Water: A History

“Just like its topic, The Source flows magnificently from end to end, carving out a story that spans a continent and several centuries. Martin Doyle weaves together a gripping mix of American history, geology, engineering, economics, and politics to show that American rivers are one of the inspirations of the constitution, the connective fabric of our industry, a triggering cause of environmental movements, and a source of power—physical, economic, and political.” — Michael E. Webber, author of Thirst for Power

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