> Skip to content

A secret history of China – a fresh new way of thinking about a people, a civilisation, an epic story.


Selected as a Book of the Year by The Times and The Economist

China's history is an epic tapestry of courtly philosophies, warring factions and imperial intrigue. Yet, over five thousand years, one ancient element has so dramatically shaped the country's fate that it remains the key to unlocking China's story. That element is water.

In The Water Kingdom Philip Ball takes us on a grand tour of China's defining element, from the rice terraces and towering karts of its battle-worn waterways, to the vast engineering projects that have struggled to contain water's wrath. What surfaces is the secret history of a people and a nation, drawn from its deep reverence for nature's most dynamic force.

Reviews

What a splendid idea: to write a history of China through its relationship with water. Far-fetched you might think: not in the least, as you will find immediately you start to read this fascinating book ... You will never think of China in quite the same way again.

Martin Jacques, author of WHEN CHINA RULES THE WORLD

In his excellent, smartly written new book, British science writer Philip Ball identifies water as "one of the most constant, significant and illuminating themes" in China's history and culture.

Jonathan Fenby, Financial Times

Extraordinary.

The Times (Book of the Week)

Ball’s journey along the history, politics and culture of China’s waterways encompasses many heroes of Chinese hydrology, men who grappled with elemental forces and imperial censure and sometimes came out on top.

Isabel Hilton, Guardian

The Water Kingdom presents us with an epic portrait of China’s water management history and its deep interlacing with culture currents. It’s essential reading for any serious understanding of the dynamic relations between humans and nature, not only in China, but in the world at large.

Xiaolu Guo, author of I AM CHINA

His book, a rewarding read, is at its most fascinating when describing how in China the laws of nature seems to have embedded in them a moral precept… Mr Ball puts water back beautifully at the heart of China’s story.

The Economist

Strikingly original

The Times Literary Supplement

[A] lucid and impressive book… [A] thoughtful study.

Rana Mitter, Prospect

The Water Kingdom traverses fascinating, endlessly fertile territory... There is a great deal in [the book] to inspire.

Christopher Harding, Telegraph

[A] fascinating book.

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

This book is fascinating and took me on a journey into a world I previously knew very little about. Take the time to immerse yourself and you will find this a rewarding read.

Philippa Matthews, Chemistry World

The language of water has been spoken in China since the earliest times. This remarkable book explains why, and is one of the very few that will be respected both in the West and in China.

Xinran, author of THE GOOD WOMEN OF CHINA and BUY ME THE SKY

[It offers] a unique window through which we can begin to grasp the overwhelming complexity and teeming energy of the country and its people.

Asian Art Newspaper, Book of the Year

An accessible history.

Andrea Janku, Nature

Essential reading.

Xiaolu Guo

Ball offers a compelling and evocative insight into a history still little understood in the West.

UK Press Syndication

Ball’s ingenious idea is to narrate the story of China from the point of view of water… showing how profoundly the country is at the mercy of its great rivers.

Helen Dunmore, Daily Telegraph

Intriguing

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

Ball takes us on a fascinating and dizzying tour through Chinese myth and history.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9781784701543

    August 14, 2017

    Vintage

    352 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9781847923547

    August 18, 2016

    Bodley Head

    352 pages

    RRP $55.00

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Trade Paperback

    9781847923554

    August 15, 2016

    Bodley Head

    352 pages

    RRP $35.00

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781473522800

    August 4, 2016

    Vintage Digital

    352 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Philip Ball

Beyond Weird
Invisible
Serving the Reich
Curiosity
The Music Instinct
Unnatural
The Music Instinct Brain Shot
Universe of Stone
Bright Earth
The Devil's Doctor
Critical Mass

Recommendations

Sapiens
The Story of the Jews
A Galaxy of Her Own
Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls
A Short History of Drunkenness
The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power
Long Road from Jarrow
Queer City
Spitalfields
Albanese
Home and Away
Flaneuse
Fifty Years of Hurt
A Walk in the Park
The Long Weekend
The Black Prince of Florence
The German War
Republic or Death!
The Private Lives of the Saints
Neither Nowt Nor Summat