New Book Navigates Rivers’ Roles in American History and Politics

February 1, 2018

Contact: Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084 or

DURHAM, N.C. – America has more than 250,000 rivers.

A new book by Martin Doyle traces how these natural passageways and power sources have shaped American politics, economics and society from Revolutionary times to today – and how Americans have drained, dredged, redirected, dammed, set fire to and occasionally even attempted to restore these waterways in response to shifting needs and values.

His book, “The Source: How Rivers Made America and America Remade Its Rivers,” will be published Feb. 6 by W.W. Norton & Company.

Doyle is professor of river systems science and policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. He also is director of the Water Policy Program at the university’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

His 352-page book weaves together history, geology, engineering, economics and politics to document the central role rivers have played in shaping pivotal chapters in America’s development, from the U.S. Constitution’s roots in interstate river navigation to the discovery of gold in 1848, and the escalation of climate-fueled water wars across the West today.

Along the way, Doyle explores how differing philosophies about the management of our rivers have sparked some of the most fiercely debated arguments at the heart of the American experiment – including those over federalism, sovereignty and property rights, taxation, regulation, conservation, and development.

Kirkus Reviews praises his scholarship as “a vigorous look at American history through the nation’s waterways,” and says, “Doyle speaks well to issues that are as pressing today as in the first years of the republic.”