The modern idea of 'mastery' over nature always had its critics, whether their motives were aesthetic, religious or environmentalist. By investigating how the most fundamental element - water - was 'conquered' by draining fens and marshes, straightening the courses of rivers, building high dams and exploiting hydro-electric power, The Conquest of Nature explores how over the last 250 years, the German people have shaped their natural environment and how the landscapes they created took a powerful hold on the German imagination. From Frederick the Great of Prussia to Johann Gottfried Tulla, 'the man who tamed the wild Rhine' in the nineteenth century to Otto Intze, 'master dambuilder' of the years around 1900, to the Nazis who set out to colonise 'living space' in the East, this groundbreaking study shows that while mastery over nature delivers undoubted benefits, it has often come at a tremendous cost to both the natural environment and human life.
David Blackbourn is Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1994. He is the author of The Fontana History of Germany 1780- 1918: The Long Nineteenth Century and Marpingen.