[UCP Books]: The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball

“In his excellent, smartly written new book, The Water Kingdom, Ball identifies water as ‘one of the most constant, significant and illuminating themes’ in China’s history and culture.”
Financial Times



The Water Kingdom
A Secret History of China
Philip Ball

US Publication: May 9, 2017 / Cloth $27.50


Enormous in geographical scope and full of varied and rich traditions, China defies easy understanding. How can we begin to wrap our minds around its complex cultural and political history? Philip Ball offers here an unusual and perceptive answer: water. From the Yangtze to the Yellow River, China is traversed by great waterways, which, Ball shows, have defined its politics and ways of life for centuries. Water has been so integral to China’s culture, economy, and growth and development that it provides a window on the whole sweep of Chinese history.

In The Water Kingdom, he takes us on a grand journey through China’s past and present, showing how the complexity and energy of the country and its history repeatedly come back to the challenges, opportunities and inspiration provided by the waterways. Drawing on stories from travelers and explorers, poets and painters, bureaucrats and activists, all of whom have been influenced by an environment shaped and permeated by water, Ball explores how the ubiquitous relationship of the Chinese people to water has made it an enduring metaphor for philosophical thought and artistic expression. From the Han emperors to Mao, the ability to manage the waters ― to provide irrigation and defend against floods ― was a barometer of political legitimacy, often resulting in engineering works on a gigantic scale. It’s a struggle that continues today, as the strain of economic growth on water resources may be the greatest threat to China’s future.


Philip Ball worked for over twenty years as an editor for Nature, writes regularly in the scientific and popular media, and has authored many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and the wider culture, including, most recently Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does. He lives in London. He is available for interviews. Please contact Levi Stahl at (773) 702-0289 or levi@uchicago.edu


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