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The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000: An Eco-Biography, 1815u2000 (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) Paperback – 15 Nov 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (15 Nov 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295985003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295985008
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,715,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"This book represents a momentous venture and aims to create a new genre: an eco-biography ... an excellent book, which will be the standard reference on the Rhine in environmental history in English for many years to come." The Economic History Review "Sometimes ironic and humorous, consistently clear and persuasive, Cioc's 'life story' of the Rhine deftly weaves together politics, economics, and river ecology ... A compelling study." Environmental History

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The modern Rhine—"Europe's romantic sewer"—is an offspring of the French and industrial revolutions. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Life and Times of the Rhine 26 Mar 2006
By Whitney Hampson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Marc Cioc's book The Rhine: An Eco-Biography is a detailed case study of the impact of human engineering on arguably the most important river on the European continent. It is a history of both the Rhine and of the Rhine Commission, the international body created in 1815 to oversee the river and mold it into what amounts to a commercial canal. Utilizing a variety of scientific sources as well as historical accounts of the various agencies that had control over the Rhine, Cioc reveals that human changes to the river that took into account only the immediate, commercial impacts of their actions severely damaged its biodiversity and vitality. However, he argues, recent efforts to compensate for earlier destruction of the river's ecosystem are achieving moderate success.

In his book, Cioc traces the history of efforts in the past two centuries to control the Rhine and make it more useful for human commercial and industrial ventures. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he argues, were a time of great ecological change for the river, the most dramatic since the Ice Age. The Rhine was seen as a "multipurpose" waterway, using by the various countries through which it flows for a variety of purposes, from urban sanitation and transportation to industrial production and power generation. Under the guiding hand of various commissions and communes, river engineers took on the Rhine and tried to shape it into a more commercially useful river. Just as John F. Richards argues in his book The Unending Frontier, European colonizers were awed into wastefulness by the abundance of natural resources they found, most politicians, business people, and scientists believed for decades that the Rhine was simply too vast to ever be harmed by waste or overuse. Seeing the river as an "imperfect canal," countries and companies attempted to straighten the river, standardize its flow, and eliminate its floodplains.

All of these efforts to tame and harness the Rhine had incredibly deleterious effects on the rivers' diverse ecosystems. Cioc argues that these attempts to simplify the river into a commercially useful tool effectively destroyed the diversity of habitats, flora and fauna that once populated its banks and waters; this is not unlike William Cronon's argument that European colonizers simplified and thus de-diversified the natural environments of New England (Changes in the Land). The coal and chemical industries, particularly in Germany, polluted many tributaries to the point of biodeath, as did the use of the waters as an urban sewer and waste product repository. Efforts to reshape the river eliminated floodplains and other important natural habitats like islands, which not only eliminated a great deal of animal and plant life but also increased the risk of flooding in many areas. As Cioc reveals, those who failed to see the Rhine as a natural system and instead perceived it as a machine were responsible for creating long-term environmental damage in exchange for short-term political and financial gains.

Cioc's book is sometimes difficult for a reader without any scientific training; his close examination of the river's biological profile is thorough, but often challenging to follow. The non-chronological organization of many of the historically-focused chapters also makes it hard to keep track of the historical context in which changes to the river were made. And Cioc's rather gloomy tone often makes humans out to be the evil destroyers of nature - although it's possible that this feeling was unavoidable on his part after discovering the wholly negative effects of industrial use on the Rhine. But Cioc ends on a more hopeful note; his cautious optimism about current Rhine restoration projects is certainly heartening, and shows that humans can actually encourage biodiversity as well as eliminate it. In general, the book is a comprehensive and fascinating account of a very important world river.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Lively and enlightening 23 Jun 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What an unexpected pleasure. The title of this book caused me to expect some very dry reading, but as I am planning a Rhine river cruise, I thought I'd best tackle the job as their seemed to be no other "biographies" of the Rhine. I thought the history of the Rhine would be a history of geopolitics, war, and other essentially human events. Not so. This book is the story of the river, and the story is told in a way which is both scholarly and engaging. The author is skilled in managing what appears to be a prodigious amount of research which he presents in a style which conveys a warm respect for the life of the river.
The Cadillac Desert of Europe 10 April 2014
By donyskiw - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an in-depth chronicle of the re-engineering of the Rhine from its natural form to a polluted, rammed, canal. The Rhine was straightened, used as a dumping place for chemicals and sewage, and lost its ability to sustain living things. Unlike the American west, there is work being done to rehabilitate the Rhine. However, like the American west, the existing dependence of the people on the current situation will not allow it to be restored to the Rhine of the mid 19th century. A well researched book told in a scientific manner stating facts without hysteria.
Tells a great story of a great river and it's peoples 18 Jan 2014
By Thomas R. Moore - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hydrology oriented, the book helps us understand why we reengineer rivers for progress and profit, straighten and control them to our subsequent regret.
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