Cover Image: The Nile

The Nile

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Member Reviews

A travelogue and analysis of the hydrology, historical and modern, of the Nile River.

The author describes the Nile, his travels, and what can be known of its history from Alexandria to the sources of the White Nile and then back up the Blue Nile.  There is discussion of the prehistory of the Nile and the Nile in ancient Egypt and Sudan; yet the vast majority of the history involved centered on the British and their plans to adapt the hydrology of the Nile to lead to greater productivity from Uganda to Egypt, but especially Egypt.

To this end one learns about each segment of the river: its mouth at the delta; Memphis; Upper Egypt; southern Egypt/northern Sudan; Sudan to Khartoum; the White Nile and the marshes of South Sudan; the Nile, its lakes and its sources in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, etc.; then back to the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  

One is quickly impressed at the knowledge and research of the author and his ability to speak with African rulers throughout the Nile region.  He explains the picture of what the British attempted to do, the various ways it was accomplished, and the various plans and potential conflicts regarding how the Nile water will be leveraged in the twenty-first century.

If one is interested in Nile hydrology, this is your book.
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This wasn't how I imagined this book to be, in saying that I'm not sure what I did imagine. I surprisingly rather enjoyed it, the chapters are really short which I really enjoyed but it was a slow read. I think it's more tha kind of book that you dip in and out of rather than continuously binge read. In saying that it was really informative and I did feel like I learned a lot that I didn't know previously.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Bloomsbury Academic and Terje Tvedt for the copy of this book. All views are my own.*
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⭐⭐⭐ -- Fascinating but a bit dry at times

I have been slogging through this one for a while now. That's not to say that I found it boring. There is a lot of fascinating and interesting stuff here. This book is a mix of both the history of the Nile and the author's travels. I found the history parts to be the most interesting, and the travel parts a bit dry. Which is rather perplexing because it is usually the opposite. 🤷🏻‍♀️ It still gets a recommendation from yours truly. Especially if (like myself) you love diving into the history of people and places!

**ARC Via NetGalley**
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A very well written book looking into the unique and important history of the Nile , its people and their effects on the rest of history!
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Terje Tvedt The Nile History’s Greatest River I.B.Taurus  Bloomsbury Press 2021

This is an immense book, both in scope and aspiration. Coming to my interest in reading The Nile from a mixture of dim recall from school history; Agatha Christie’s evocative Death Comes as the End, and the less inspiring, Death on the Nile; and a cruise from Luxor to Aswan I have mixed responses. They are those of an academic with a political and historical focus, and the general interest of a person who wants to read an accessible book on an area about which I know little, apart from the mentioned fiction and travel treatments. 

The introduction was beautifully redolent of the movement of the Nile, its vast influence and history.  I thought that I was in for a wonderful treat of information woven through the eye of an inspired writer whose background in documentary would lay before me easily accessed images of the Nile, geographically, politically, and historically. Not to mention that this book also serves as a travelogue of Terje Tvedt’s travels from the mouth of the Nile Delta to Tanzania and The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a description of his travels, I was disappointed. I am left wondering why the tone I found early in the book seemed to disappear to leave a somewhat flat rendition of observations, meetings, thoughts, and stories. There appeared to be little interest in the small matters. What did it mean to the parents of the virgin thrown into the Nile as a sacrifice? To the person who had to give up his goat or other animal, to drowning to appease the river – surely an economic disaster for the owner? What were the domestic lives of the people whose well being seems to have been drenched in political and economic unrest that sits side by side with the natural changes in the river that brought economic security? In these sections I would have liked to have learnt more about the way in which ordinary people lived.  There is detail provided for explorers such as John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton who took with them a multitude of goods from folding tables and brandy to gifts such as ‘clothing, brass wire and pearls’. Fair enough, but as there is so much time given to warfare, murders, and unrest in the remainder of the book ordinary the addition of material about people’s lives would have provided a far more rounded story of the Nile.  

Where history, politics and geography meet a wealth of information is provided. And it is here that there is so much to be learnt. I was gratified to do so. Although I would have liked the political events as they relate to British involvement clarified as to the governments in power at the time, major figures are mentioned and give some focus along with the dates of events. Describing and analysing over 5000 years of history is an impressive contribution to knowledge about a remarkable river and its influence on world events, far from its source as well as events those that directly impacted on the people along its banks and environs.  

The role of colonialism is studied, with some myths destroyed, charging the reader with the responsibility of thinking about what other errors may have been made in historical writing by not only the victors as is commonly noted, but by the local entities that prosper under colonialism. Questions are also raised about racism and its impact on the way governments responded to local events, where rather than acknowledge local experience, racist understandings held sway in government policy making. Decisions made and not made move Terje Tvedt to question in the light of the 1913 civil war and continual conflict fighting over pastoral and other interests pastoral what the impact would have been on the proposed drainage of the swamps and building of the Jonglei Canal? Here, we are reminded of the canal building that he has reminisced over earlier in the book. I try to recall whether canals were mentioned on our tour. Canals and dams as a feature of the Nile are a constant reminder of the river as an industrialised source of economic prosperity as well as the natural provider of water flowing and receding to accomplish the same result in the past.  

Photographs with detailed descriptions including reference to local events and comments are located at the end of the book. A useful index of names is included. The list of references is an informative read, with familiar names jostling with the unfamiliar, making it an interesting read in itself. End notes are comprehensive.  

Would I like to reread this book from ‘cover to cover’ as I have done for this review? No, not at all. Its density makes it a heavy read. However, I shall enjoy returning to various sections again and again to develop my understanding of the Nile and the countries through which it runs. As Tvedt states, the struggle over exploitation of the Nile has a never-ending influence on regional and world development. The Nile deserves more than my dim recalls, a couple of Agatha Christies, and a cruise. Terje Tvedt’s book has given me the opportunity to do this in a comprehensive and largely agreeable manner.
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If you are looking for a really comprehensive history of the Nile by someone who is both clearly knowledgeable about it (recognising that 'it' traverses many different locations, geologies, and peoples) and passionate about what it is physically and symbolically, then this is the perfect text. Thoroughly insightful, it covers a huge amount of topics and issues (history, physical geography, and much more) but in a completely accessible way. If you have not travelled the Nile this book will undoubtedly stir up your appetite to do so.

These critiques are very minor: for a text this length there are usually sections that do not quite hold your attention as much as others, and this was true of The Nile. Personally, interspersing the narrative with bits of humour would have taken this up to a 5* rating (there was certainly scope to do so given the nature of some of the anecdotes/stories) but I recognise that this may not be the author's forte nor what everyone desires.  

Overall, excellent and I will be recommending to anyone interested in travel and/or history.
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I found this a very  enjoyable and in-depth read, it is well researched with lots of intriguing historical facts and features.
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Terje Tvedt's survey of the Nile river is a comprehensive but accessible work that blends the author's own travels in the Nile region with the historical and cultural perspective concerning what is probably the most famous river on Earth.  Starting from the mouth of the Nile Delta, he travels as far south as Tanzania and Congo to uncover the sources of the river and its impact in the past and present on Africa.  The famous tributaries of the Blue Nile and White Nile are covered in depth, but so are many lesser streams and lakes in East and Southern Africa.

Tvedt manages to blend the many ancient civilizations and celebrities associated with the river with the current condition of the river, with many nations and peoples fighting over the dwindling resources of the Nile.  He shows that man's attempts to tame the river for irrigation and hydroelectric power are slowly changing the river downstream.  For all of its importance throughout history, the Nile and its management remain critical to the future prosperity of modern Africa.

Because the scope of the coverage is so large, there may not be as much information about Egypt or the Sudan as one might expect.  But this range helps to  demonstrate the importance of the Nile to so much of the continent, and why we need to understand the significance of the river in today's world of expanding populations and severe climate change.  Recommended for general readers interested in the Nile and Africa, as well as Egyptologists and other specialists.
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It was a fascinating and informative read, I learned a lot about the Nile.
The author tells us about the different areas where the Nile flows.
It's part a travelogue and part historical/geographical/politcal essay.
It found it interesting.
Recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Anyone who has read about Ancient Egypt or learned about it in school knows that the Nile River was a vital vein for those who lived along it due to the river’s annual flooding. Many have benefited from this legendary river and Terje Tvedt has accomplished this by exploring the history of the Nile River from Ancient Times to Modern. Tvedt takes readers on a journey along this famous river and not just in Egypt, we are able to see the history of the Nile all the way into the heart of Africa. This is definitely a wonderfully written history that I even see myself using to teach the history of this most famous body of water.
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This is a ‘biography’ of the Nile, a river that runs through several countries. Its banks have attracted indigenous cultures and frequent invaders and its life-giving water have been the basis of plenty of regional tussles. What I took from it is that there has been a constant temptation to see the Nile as a unified system, requiring unified governance, but a counter-temptation to focus on its distinct values for its diverse regions.

The author outlines the broad events, such as Egypt’s southward expansion in the 1820s, the British regional dominance after the 1880s, leading up to the 1956 nationalisation of the Suez and, perhaps even more significantly the geopolitics of various hydrological projects, from the 1902 Low Aswan Dam onwards (‘the Nile control era’). I think he does a good job balancing the broader explanations, the scene-setting and the more detailed insights. 

But, he doesn’t base his chapters around a chronological timeline. Instead, it is structured as a North-South ascent of the Nile: there is a chapter on Alexandria, then one on Cairo, and so on. The focus is always on the geopolitical events - how history and the river have shaped each other and created repeated conflicts and threats. So, the chapters on Alexandria, Cairo, or Khartoum, for example, don’t really try to give a flavour of the city, but relate those cities to the larger geopolitical forces. I think the book will stand or fall on whether you think this tight focus is a good idea (like me) or a missed opportunity.

There is a downside to this choice of structure: it takes a few chapters to get a handle on the main events and as a result the opening chapters do seem quite bitty, shifting from one historical period to another. It’s not just that: it took me around 100 pages to cotton on to the how the book was meant to be read. The author uses short sections of 1st person travelogue, but these aren’t meant to give a sense of local flavour (they are too short), but to serve as punctuation, pivoting between historical narrative and sections of broader analysis. As I said, after around 100 pages I started to get into the right rhythm.

But there are upsides to this hard-at-the-start structure. In tying these events to the geography, rather than a simple timeline, the author is able to make his history issue-led - each area has its own needs from the Nile and explaining these gets our interest and the resulting stories feed that interest rather than seeming like a heavy history class. Furthermore, the structure is cumulative and as each chapter returns to the main geopolitical events, the details is built up and the book becomes richer and more complex. You end up feeling quite on top of the complex history and that confidence fuels the interest, which creates more interest. This virtuous circle proves effective.

There are plenty of interesting nuggets in here - I enjoyed reading about, particularly the US effort to weaken British influence, leading up the 1956 Suez Crisis (the author has already published a good book on this episode). There are one or two problems with the translation, which occasionally needs ironing out a bit, and there are one or two tiny slips early on (Constantine was 4th century not 400s; Napoleon III developed the Suez Canal, not Napoleon II), but these don’t really affect the overall feel of the book, which remains very much worth reading.
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This is a very in-depth look at The Nile.  In some parts it reads a little like a memoir, but for my purposes as an educator, I would probably use it more as a reference.  There is an immense amount of information collected here.  It is organized geographically instead of chronologically.  A good reference and I plan to buy a hard copy for the older homeschoolers in our coop.
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I appreciate the publisher allowing me to read this book. A very well researched  and written history of the worlds most famous river.
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There were parts of the book that I found outstanding - those about the hydrology of the Nile and the geopolitics of the Nile drainage basin. I liked how the book was organized, with discussion starting at the north end of the river and then following the river south, so following a geographic and not chronological discussion. The historical treatment is also excellent, with an in-depth discussion of colonialism. On the other hand, while I normally enjoy reading about the author’s journey, in this case, these sections came out flat. I also didn’t enjoy the use of historical jargon or the numerous detours to discuss historical theories, for example, about Orientalism or ethnicity. Overall, though, this book is well worth reading. Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Academic for the advance reader copy.
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I should start by saying that this book is not quite the book I expected. Given it's the Nile, and given the blurb, I expected the book to be much more about the swathes of history involved in that region of the world. There is, of course, discussion about the role of the Nile in the grand sweep of ancient Egyptian history, and what might be called "medieval" history for want of a better term. There's mention of ancient Nubia, and some commentary on "medieval" Ethiopia, as well as the Rift Valley and the Olduvai Gorge. However, the reality is that the vast majority of this book is focused on European, and in particular British, colonialism - efforts to control the various parts of the Nile for their own purposes. So I was surprised by that, and occasionally disappointed that it was so modern in focus.

This is also not "just" a history book, and in general this is a good thing. It has aspects of a travel memoir; the author has travelled to every country he mentions, I think, and to most of the parts of the Nile and its tributaries discussed. So there are sections where Tvedt is quite personal in his writing, reflecting on his own experiences and how this matches - or doesn't - with historical or literary representations of the places. This aspect I enjoyed a lot. 

As well, there are aspects of historical theorising that I found quite intriguing. The author challenges Edward Said's theories about 'orientalism' and whether it's appropriate for this challenge to apply to all aspects of European writing; and challenges most historians in their refusal to consider the very solid, material, and geographic nature of a river like the Nile. I don't know that much about the theories he's challenging so I can't say with full confidence whether he makes perfect sense; but certainly many of the ideas he raises seem fair. 

But overall, the book is indeed about the Nile: as something that has shaped geography, as something that has shaped the civilisations that exist along its banks and those of its tributaries, as something that has contributed hugely to political tensions over the last 150 years or so. I had no idea there was a 1929 Agreement that basically said upstream countries could do nothing with the Nile unless Egypt agreed! And of course for most of those upstream countries, this was signed by the imperialist powers then in control... so since the 1960s there's been argument about whether those powers had the right to sign on behalf of these now-existing countries. Nor had I ever considered the notion of the Nile as a weapon (withhold water, or release too much if you've got a dam); or the idea that the Suez Canal crisis can also be linked to control of the Nile. 

I learned a lot about the realities of European colonialism and imperialism in the Nile basin - primarily the British, but also German and Italian (I didn't learn anything new about Belgium, and Leopold). The machinations made me sick all over again: water for Egypt so Egypt can grow cotton to supply to England for the cotton mills... 

In terms of structure, the book basically flows from the Nile Delta (seriously under pressure thanks to climate change) to the various sources of the Blue and White Niles (hello, Stanley and others). So it's not chronological; I quite liked this geographical perspective, though, and it certainly makes sense in the context. Each chapter is broken into what are basically vignettes. It means the author doesn't have to make one solid narrative for each geographical area, but instead takes various different issues and treats them in sometimes one, sometimes five, pages. 

This is a thoroughly researched, detailed, meticulous and very clever story of the Nile.
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