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Plugged by no fewer than twenty-five dams, the Colorado is the world’s most regulated river drainage, providing most of the water supply of Las Vegas, Tucson, and San Diego, and much of the power and water of Los Angeles and Phoenix, cities that are home to more than 25 million people. If it ceased flowing, the water held in its reservoirs might hold out for three to four years, but after that it would be necessary to abandon most of southern California and Arizona, and much of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. For the entire American Southwest the Colorado is indeed the river of life, which makes it all the more tragic and ironic that by the time it approaches its final destination, it has been reduced to a shadow upon the sand, its delta dry and deserted, its flow a toxic trickle seeping into the sea.
In this remarkable blend of history, science, and personal observation, acclaimed author Wade Davis tells the story of America’s Nile, how it once flowed freely and how human intervention has left it near exhaustion, altering the water temperature, volume, local species, and shoreline of the river Theodore Roosevelt once urged us to “leave it as it is.” Yet despite a century of human interference, Davis writes, the splendor of the Colorado lives on in the river’s remaining wild rapids, quiet pools, and sweeping canyons. The story of the Colorado River is the human quest for progress and its inevitable if unintended effects—and an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and foster the rebirth of America’s most iconic waterway.
A beautifully told story of historical adventure and natural beauty, River Notes is a fascinating journey down the river and through mankind’s complicated and destructive relationship with one of its greatest natural resources.
"River Notes is both a love song and a paean of regret to America's most spectacular river. Wade Davis weaves his own story of running the river with history, geology and quotations from those who knew it in its free days. This is also a warning about how easy it is to lose America's precious landscape."
"Above all, the book—by turns lyrical, elegiac and combative—is a plea to save the Colorado River before it is too late."
Wall Street Journal
"Often lyrically, Davis bemoans the state of a river that has been hemmed in so that cities including Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Tucson and Phoenix can switch on their lights and have their taps flow....He does a good job of showing how we are all connected to this river, whether we recognize it or not."
"[A] beautifully concise history of the Colorado River."
"incisive analysis....If only all public discussion of America's accomplishments and short-comings could be so clear-eyed."
"The Colorado, he notes in this compelling historical and environmental narrative, is now controlled by more than 25 dams as it supplies water and electric power to cities in the Southwest and West."
Dallas Morning News
"Davis manages to offer a distinct and compelling perspective on this iconic watercourse. These qualities make River Notes a great read for either armchair travellers or anyone with a passion for water conservation."
"From a writer of such hefty status...you expect an excellent treatise on the Colorado River. You will not be disappointed. Wade Davis' writing is superb, his text is very readable and fascinating, and his research on this subject is formidable. ...the text is excellent...Reading about the trip is exciting and thought-provoking, and you wonder whether taming this river was really worth the cost."
San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review
"River Notes sings not because of its recounting of geology and history with words that have been said many times before, but because of its personal song to a river that, despite all, still inspires."
"Wade Davis traces the natural and human history of the Colorado River with vivid and engaging detail in his new book River Notes."
"In short, River Notes is everything you've ever wanted to know about the Colorado and more....If you've ever pondered a trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon it's definitely worth a pre-trip read. When the time comes, you'll appreciate the journey all the more. And those who have had the great opportunity to travel by way of the river will cherish having this book by their side so they can slip back into the canyon and down the river whenever they feel the urge."
"Laced with just enough of the sharp edged facts to prove he knows what he is talking about (and dares you to challenge him), Davis is at once a historian, an ecologist, and (my favorite) a hearty traveler. His journey along the banks of the Colorado, through the Grand Canyon is as rich as his telling of the history of how all of this land came to be."
"River Notes: A Natural and Human History of the Colorado is both a requiem for a river lost and a tale of a river rebounding. Wade Davis floods our imagination not just with facts but stories, the kind of stories that enter our bloodstream with the memory of red water and the force of erosion. River Notes is a literary and historical testament to change, one that believes in the sustaining power of reciprocity over greed, while giving us an adventure story through time. The first six pages of this book will break your heart. The remaining pages will repair what has been broken."
Terry Tempest Williams, author of "Refuge" and "When Women Were Birds"
"Wade Davis' River Notes engagingly draws the reader in from the very first page—creating the perfect primer for Grand Canyon river guides, passengers, and arm chair adventurers. He eloquently captures and distills the broad sweep of the Colorado River system's geologic and human history. His words flow smoothly as he highlights the destruction of spectacular Glen Canyon and then weaves Major Powell's historical journey though the canyon with his own river experience."
George Wendt, Founder and President, O.A.R.S.
"In this slender meditation, Wade Davis deftly interweaves the past, present, and future of the greatest of all American rivers. Although I've explored the Colorado myself, Davis opened my eyes to many a new and surprising fact or insight. It's dazzling to see an author wield comprehensive erudition with such a light and masterly touch."
David Roberts, author of "Finding Everett Ruess"
River Notes was given an honorable mention in general non-fiction by the 2013 Green Book Festival Awards.
Today, the winner of our #KeepItWild sweepstakes began their exploration of the southwest with Satellites in the High Country author Jason Mark. While they spend three days and two nights hiking a portion of the Arizona Trail, go on your own journey with explorer Wade Davis in this week's #ForewordFriday. In River Notes, Davis tells the story of the Colorado River—how it once flowed freely and how human intervention has left it near exhaustion. Yet despite a century of human interference, the splendor of the Colorado lives on in the river’s remaining wild rapids, quiet pools, and sweeping canyons.
A beautifully told story of historical adventure and natural beauty, River Notes is a fascinating journey down the river and through mankind’s complicated and destructive relationship with one of its greatest natural resources. Check out an excerpt of the book below.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
This holiday season, give the gift of an Island Press book. With a catalog of more than 1,000 books, we guarantee there's something for everyone on your shopping list. Check out our list of staff selections, and share your own ideas in the comments below.
For the OUTDOORSPERSON in your life:
Water is for Fighting Over...and Other Myths about Water in the West by John Fleck
Anyone who has ever rafted down the Colorado, spent a starlit night on its banks, or even drank from a faucet in the western US needs Water is for Fighting Over. Longtime journalist John Fleck will give the outdoors lover in your life a new appreciation for this amazing river and the people who work to conserve it. This book is a gift of hope for the New Year.
Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man by Jason Mark
Do you constantly find your friend waxing poetic about their camping tales and their intimate connection to the peaceful, yet mysterious powers of nature? Sounds like they will relate to Jason Mark’s tales of his expeditions across a multitude of American landscapes, as told in Satellites in the High Country. More than a collection of stories, this narrative demonstrates the power of nature’s wildness and explores what the concept of wild has come to mean in this Human Age.
What Should a Clever Moose Eat?: Natural History, Ecology, and the North Woods by John Pastor
Is the outdoorsperson in your life all dressed up in boots, parka, and backpack with nowhere to go? Looking for meaning in another titanium French press coffeemaker for the camp stove? What Should a Clever Moose Eat leaves the technogadgets behind and reminds us that all we really need to bring to the woods when we venture out is a curious mind and the ability to ask a good question about the natural world around us. Such as, why do leaves die? What do pine cones have to do with the shape of a bird’s beak? And, how are blowflies important to skunk cabbage? A few quality hours among its pages will equip your outdoor enthusiast to venture forth and view nature with new appreciation, whether in the North Woods with ecologist John Pastor or a natural ecosystem closer to home.
Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman
This holiday season, give your favorite climate-denier a passive aggressive “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” with The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change featuring self –described Stand-up Economist Yoram Bauman and award-winning illustrator Grady Klein. Give the gift of fun, entertaining basic understanding of what is, undeniably and not up for subjective debate, scientific fact!
For the HEALTH NUT in your life:
Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene by Gene by Emily Monosson
Give the health nut in your life the gift of understanding with Unnatural Selection. Your friends and family will discover how chemicals are changing life on earth and how we can protect it. Plus, they’ll read fascinating stories about the search for a universal vaccine, the attack of relentless bedbugs, and a miracle cancer drug that saved a young father’s life.
For the ADVOCATE in your life:
Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay by Sanderson, et. al
Need an antidote to the doom and gloom? Stressed-out environmental advocates will appreciate Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay. It’s a deep dive into one of the most important questions of our time: how can we create cities where people and nature thrive together? Prospects for Resilience showcases successful efforts to restore New York’s much abused Jamaica Bay, but its lessons apply to any communities seeking to become more resilient in a turbulent world.
Ecological Economics by Josh Farley and Herman Daly
Blow the mind of the advocate in your life with a copy of Ecological Economics by the godfather of ecological economics, Herman Daly, and Josh Farley. In plain, and sometimes humorous English, they’ll come to understand how our current economic system does not play by the same laws that govern nearly every other system known to humankind—that is, the laws of thermodynamics. Given recent financial and political events, there’s a message of hope within the book as it lays out specific policy and social change frameworks.
For the CRAZY CAT PERSON in your life:
An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
The cat lovers in your life will lose themselves in An Indomitable Beast, an illuminating story about the journey of the jaguar. This is the perfect book for any of your feline loving friends, whether they want to pursue adventure with the big cats of the wild, or stay home with a book and cup of tea.
For the GARDENER in your life:
Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes by Margie Ruddick
Give your favorite gardener an antidote to the winter blues. The lush photographs of Wild by Design, and inspirational advice on cultivating landscapes in tune with nature, transport readers to spectacular parks, gardens, and far-flung forests. This book is guaranteed to be well-thumbed and underlined by the time spring planting season arrives!
For the STUBBORN RELATIVE in your life:
Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator by Lucy Moore
For the person keeping the peace in your family this holiday season, the perfect gift is Common Ground on Hostile Turf, an inspiring how to guide demonstrating it is possible to bring vastly different views together. This book gives lessons learned on setting down at the table with the most diverse set of players and the journey they take to find common grounds and results. If your holiday dinner needs some mediation, look to the advice of author Lucy Moore.
Also consider: Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals by Susan Jacobson, Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett
For the HISTORY BUFF in your life:
The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America's Communities by Stephanie Meeks with Kevin C. Murphy
When it comes to the the future of our cities, the secret to urban revival lies in our past. Tickle the fancy of your favorite history buff by sharing The Past and Future City, which takes readers on a journey through our country's historic spaces to explain why preservation is important for all communities. With passion and expert insight, this book shows how historic spaces explain our past and serve as the foundation of our future.
For the BUSINESS PERSON in your life:
Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature by Mark Tercek
For the aspiring CEO in your life who drools at phrases like "rates of return" and "investment," share the gift of Nature's Fortune, an essential guide to the world's economic (and environmental) well-being.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Summer is here! Whether that means slathering on the sunscreen or seeking refuge from the heat in an air conditioned room, this season means one thing for all bookworms: summer reading lists. To help get yours started, our staff have shared their favorite Island Press books, past and present. Check out our recommendations, and share your favorite Island Press summer read in the comments below.
In Nature's Allies, Larry Nielson shares eight riveting biographies of great conservationists. His profiles show how these diverse leaders—including a Native American who was arrested more than 50 times and the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize—brought about extraordinary change for the environment. These stories are powerful, engaging reads for anyone who wants to be inspired to make a difference. But you don't have to take Island Press' word for it...Nature's Allies was also recently recommended as a New York Public Library staff pick.
In this remarkable blend of history, science, and personal observation, acclaimed author Wade Davis tells the story of America’s Nile, how it once flowed freely and how human intervention has left it near exhaustion. A beautifully told story of historical adventue and natural beauty, River Notes is a fascinating journey down the river and through mankind's complicated and destructive relationship with one of its greatest natural resources. Kyler Geoffroy, Online Marketing Manager of the Urban Resilience Project, says this book is the perfect summer read because "we need to stop and appreciate America’s most iconic waterway now more than ever."
As Vice President and Executive Editor Heather Boyer says, "there's no better time than summer to think about how to maintain the increase in interest in urban biking (and try to retain any funding for it in infrastructure budget)." A follow-up to his "fascinating" Roads Were Not Built for Cars, Bike Boom picks up where that story left off: immersing readers in cycling advocacy from 1906 to the doldrums of the 1980s. It is an extensively researched, at times humorous journey through time, flush with optimism for what could be the next, greatest bike boom of all.
Bugs and germs are big problems—and they’re evolving. But in the fight to protect our food and health, bugs and germs may also be part of the solution. Natural Defense by Emily Monosson is the first book to bring readers into this exciting new world, highlighting cutting-edge solutions such as pheromones that send crop-destroying moths into a misguided sexual frenzy, and proteins that promise targed destruction of infectious bacteria. Brooke Borel, contributing editor at Popular Science had this to say about the book: "With deft prose and fascinating anecdotes, Monosson’s survey of the latest scientific research leaves us in awe of humankind’s ingenuity."
If summer is the time for exploring neighborhood creeks and streams, Immersion by Abbie Gascho Landis is the summer read for you. A breathtaking journey into the world of freshwater mussels, Immersion explores the hidden lives of mussels in our rivers and streams, and asks whether our capacity to love these alien creatures can power us to protect freshwater for humans and nature alike. Blending science with artful storytelling, Immersion takes readers from perilous river surveys and dry riverbeds to laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time. Production Assistant Elise Ricotta says this is the perfect book to read at the beach or lake.
Associate Editor and Rights Manager Rebecca Bright picked up Seeking the Sacred Raven while she was preparing for an interview to intern at Island Press (we won't say how many years ago). The book tells the story of Hawaii's 'Alla, a member of the raven family that once flourished on the islands and now survives only in captivity. Mark Jerome Walters chronicles the history of the birds' interactions with humans throughout the centuries, painting a picture of one species' decline that resonates today, as many others face the same fate. The first Island Press book she ever read, Rebecca found the book to be "both fascinating and heartbreaking."
As you fire up the grill for summer barbeques and head to your local farmer's market, consider reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis, a sensory-rich journey through two hundred years of making dinner. From eighteenth-century gardens and historic cookbooks to calculated advertising campaigns and sleek supermarket aisles, Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how Americans have shopped, cooked, and thought about their food for five generations. Revealing how knowledge of our food has been lost and how it might now be regained, Kitchen Literacy promises to make us think differently about what we eat.
Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck makes for perfect reading while sitting by the pool, river, or ocean. In it, he offers a unique, fresh perspective on the catastrophe narrative of the West, showcasing how this region is less of a battlefield and more of a place where individuals and communities find common ground amid a changing geography. This book shows that even in the depths of the worst droughts, positive solution stories can still be found. Vice President and Director of Marketing & Sales Julie Marshall likes "John’s thoughtful and balanced approach to the issue. I also really appreciate the fact he has such deep knowledge based on his many years covering the issues in the west. It gives him great credibility but also makes his explanations of the issues and solutions seem solid based on 'all the facts' and not just a superficial assessment."
While walking around and enjoying the summer sunshine, don't forget to pack Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. In it, he takes an in-depth look at six walkable communities—and the citizens, public officials, and planners who are making them satisfying places to live. Civil Engineering said "Within Walking Distance shines...a warm, personal, and heartening depiction of our power to shape our communities in a positive way when we set our minds to it."
Hungry for adventure? Tibet Wild is George B. Schaller's account of three decades of exploration in the most remote stretches of Tibet: the wide, sweeping rangelands of the Chang Tang and the hidden canyons and plunging ravines of the southeastern forests. Throughout, it is an intimate journey through the changing wilderness of Tibet, guided by the careful gaze and unwavering passion of a life-long naturalist. Editor Courtney Lix loves the book because "it transports you to the wildest regions in Tibet, from describing the daily challenges of being a field biologist, to admiring breathtaking landscapes, and encounters with rare and beautiful creatures."
What are your top Island Press reads? Share them below, so others can add them to their summer reading lists.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.