There are ninety thousand registered dams in the United States, fifty thousand of them classified as “major.” Nearly all of this infrastructure was built during a forty-year period, from 1932 to 1972, in an era of public investment and political consensus that seems inconceivable today. These incredible structures—sometimes called the American Pyramids—helped the country rebound from the Great Depression, brought water and electricity to enormous reaches, helped win World War II for the Allies, and became the basis for decades of prosperous stability.
At the Base of the Giant’s Throat dives into the history of dam-building in the United States as natural waterscapes have been replaced with engineered environments and the bone-dry West became America’s produce aisle. From the Folsom Powerhouse cranking sixty-hertz alternating current in the 1890s to the iconic Hoover Dam and the gargantuan Grand Coulee Dam, Anthony R. Palumbi lays out how dams and water projects changed the North American continent forever and laid the groundwork for an age of unprecedented prosperity. He also describes how institutional complacency corrupted the ethos of public power and public works—and how the influence of rich landowners undermined the credibility of that ethos. Palumbi shows how our nation’s ability to cope with natural disasters has been fatally compromised by underinvestment in decaying infrastructure. He argues that a livable future demands investment on a scale few Americans currently grasp. To win that future we must interrogate the history of our most vital public works: the dams, canals, and levees helping to channel life’s most precious molecule.
At the Base of the Giant’s Throat tells the story of America through its water, sweeping across five hundred years of history, from the swashbuckling exploits of French colonist Samuel de Champlain to the nightmarish urban flooding of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
About the Author
Anthony R. Palumbi is the coauthor of The Extreme Life of the Sea and the author of Blood Plagues and Endless Raids: A Hundred Million Lives in the World of Warcraft. His work on natural science and popular culture has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Natural History, Mission Blue, and Think Progress, among other outlets.
"Mr. Palumbi's book is a work of great scope."—Wall Street Journal
“In this titillating history of American water infrastructure, Anthony Palumbi adroitly plumbs the personal and political. From Europeans’ first forays upstream into North America through the dam-building boom, Hurricane Katrina, and today’s megadrought, he shows how much water infrastructure was directed not by nature or the common good but to wag the dog for political power and profits. A backlash toward disinvestment, now amplified by climate change, is causing mounting disasters, and Palumbi calls for a new era of public investment to wrest the United States onto a more equitable, sustainable path.”—Erica Gies, author of Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge