River Republic

The Fall and Rise of America's Rivers

Daniel McCool

Columbia University Press

River Republic

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Pub Date: July 2014

ISBN: 9780231161312

408 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: August 2012

ISBN: 9780231161305

408 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: August 2012

ISBN: 9780231504416

408 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

River Republic

The Fall and Rise of America's Rivers

Daniel McCool

Columbia University Press

Daniel McCool not only chronicles the history of water development agencies in America and the way in which special interests have abused rather than preserved the country's rivers, he also narrates the second, brighter act in this ongoing story: the surging, grassroots movement to bring these rivers back to life and ensure they remain pristine for future generations.

The culmination of ten years of research and observation, McCool's book confirms the surprising news that America's rivers are indeed returning to a healthier, free-flowing condition. The politics of river restoration demonstrates how strong grassroots movements can challenge entrenched powers and win. Through passion and dedication, ordinary people are reclaiming the American landscape, forming a "river republic" of concerned citizens from all backgrounds and sectors of society. As McCool shows, the history, culture, and fate of America is tied to its rivers, and their restoration is a microcosm mirroring American beliefs, livelihoods, and an increasing awareness of what two hundred years of environmental degradation can do.

McCool profiles the individuals he calls "instigators," who initiated the fight for these waterways and, despite enormous odds, have succeeded in the near-impossible task of challenging and changing the status quo. Part I of the volume recounts the history of America's relationship to its rivers; part II describes how and why Americans "parted" them out, destroying their essence and diminishing their value; and part III shows how society can live in harmony with its waterways while restoring their well-being—and, by extension, the well-being of those who depend on them.

Well-written, engaging, and witty—the best book I have read on rivers.

James Lawrence Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate Science and Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West

If past is prologue, Daniel McCool's eloquent history of river mismanagement in the United States should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of our rivers. Weaving in stories that range from how polluted water killed one of Abraham Lincoln's sons to the surprising affinity toward conservationists felt by one of the greatest dam builders of the twentieth century, McCool details the multiple ways in which we have dammed, ditched, diverted, and degraded rivers. Ultimately, though, this is a hopeful book, illuminating our growing recognition that, like salmon returning to Washington's Elwha River or American shad in Virginia's Rappahannock River, we all need clean water and free-flowing rivers for our very survival.

Wm. Robert Irvin, president, American Rivers

After an exhilarating whitewater ride through America's love-hate relationship with its rivers, Daniel McCool leaves us inspired and hopeful for a happy ending.

Michael Brune, executive director, Sierra Club

This well-crafted page-turner is history and journalism at their best. The book tells with passion, precision, and clarity what has happened to a vital force of nature and offers a vision we can embrace and work toward with enthusiasm. Daniel McCool has given all who want to understand rivers a rare and precious gift.

Tim Palmer, author of Endangered Rivers and the Conservation Movement, Lifelines: The Case for River Conservation, and Rivers of America

A broad, up-to-date, hopeful view of our nation's rivers.

Kirkus Reviews

McCool tempers the flow of statistics and environmental facts with liberal doses of wit and colorful anecdotes while offering a reassuring account of working-class citizens triumphing in a timely cause.


Written in an easy-to-read narrative style that is at times poetic, River Republic is also filled with facts and political analysis.

Rosemarie Howard, Deseret News

...River Republic is an easy read that raises important questions about politics, money, and development along U.S. rivers while providing vibrant accounts of restoration projects all across the country.

Adam Mandelman, H-Environment

Daniel McCool has done a terrific job

Steve Johnson, River Management Society Journal

well-researched and well-written...Highly recommended.


An authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States... An important book. River Republic offers essential lessons for entrenched water bureaucracy.

Anthem EnviroExperts Blog
"Green River," by William Cullen Bryant
Map: Selected Sites
Part I: The Fall
1. Crumbling Edifice
2. Planters, Sawyers, and Snags: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
3. The Manless Land: The Bureau of Reclamation
Part II: Dismemberment
4. Handout Horticulture: Farming and the Feds
5. Falling Waters: Hydropower and Renewable Energy
6. Rivers Into Waterways: Barging, Locks, and Dams
7. Black Water Rising: The Myth of Flood Control
8. Downstream Dilemma: Water Pollution
Part III: Resurrection
9. River City: Urban Riverscapes
10. Net Losses: Habitat and Endangered Species
11. Playground on the Move: River Recreation
12. The River Commons

Read the first chapter from River Republic (to view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner):

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Runner-up – 2013 Green Book Festival in the Scientific category

About the Author

Daniel McCool is the director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program and a professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Utah. He has won a number of awards for his teaching and publications, and his research focuses on water resources development, voting rights, American Indian water rights, and public lands policy. He has published widely in such journals as the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Political Research Quarterly, and the University of Texas Law Review. This is his eighth book.