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Pipe Dreams
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Book description

The drying up of the Aral Sea - a major environmental catastrophe of the late twentieth century - is deeply rooted in the dreams of the irrigation age of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when engineers, scientists, politicians, and entrepreneurs around the world united in the belief that universal scientific knowledge, together with modern technologies, could be used to transform large areas of the planet from 'wasteland' into productive agricultural land. Though ostensibly about bringing modernity, progress, and prosperity to the deserts, the transformation of Central Asia's landscapes through tsarist- and Soviet-era hydraulic projects bore the hallmarks of a colonial experiment. Examining how both regimes used irrigation-age fantasies of bringing the deserts to life as a means of claiming legitimacy in Central Asia, Maya K. Peterson brings a fresh perspective to the history of Russia's conquest and rule of Central Asia.


'Pipe Dreams is a thoroughly researched, engagingly written, and highly original contribution to Central Asian and environmental history. Maya K. Peterson tells a story of technology, water politics, and imperial hubris that will be familiar to those who have studied water politics in the American West.'

Adrienne Edgar - University of California, Santa Barbara

'Tirelessly researched, engagingly written, and vividly argued, Maya K. Peterson’s marvelous Pipe Dreams explores the human and environmental transformations of Central Asia’s ‘irrigation age'. Taking water as the book’s ‘guiding principle', she places the tsarist/Soviet imperial project in its global context: the shared modernist faith in universal science, hydraulic engineering, and the logic of cotton to conquer water, land, and people.'

Nicholas Breyfogle - Ohio State University

'Maya K. Peterson provides a splendid account of imperial hubris and the transformation of nature in Central Asia under the tsarist and early Soviet regimes. Deeply researched and broadly conceptualized, Pipe Dreams is sure to become the standard work on the history of water in modern Central Asia.'

Adeeb Khalid - Carleton College, Minnesota

'Maya K. Peterson delivers a deeply researched and insightful analysis of how Russian imperial and Soviet aspirations in Central Asia combined with advancements in hydraulic technologies and an ambitious modernizing vision to culminate in a devastating environmental crisis that continues to unfold in the twenty-first century.'

Scott Levi - Ohio State University

‘Maya K. Peterson’s Pipe Dreams is an exhaustively researched, carefully crafted history of irrigation efforts in Central Asia, spanning late tsarist and early Soviet regimes.’

Catherine Bonier Source: Environmental History

‘The book should be read by scholars and students of Russian and Soviet Empire, modern Central Asia, and environmental management. It belongs in every academic library.’

Patryk Reid - H-Diplo

‘This book is an excellent addition to Cambridge’s Studies in Environment and History and should be read by those hoping to gain an understanding of the interaction between environment and people.’

Jessica H. Howell Source: Agricultural History

‘Maya K. Peterson’s Pipe Dreams: Water and Empire in Central Asia’s Aral Sea Basin is by far the best study we have of the history behind the region’s current environmental problems: its cotton monoculture. It is also a book that helps us think about the Russian colonization of Central Asia in a new way.’

Artemy M. Kalinovsky Source: American Historical Review

'Any future study on water management in Central Asia or on Tsarist and Soviet economic policies in the region will need to take stock of this work.'

Niccolo Pianciola Source: Europe-Asia Studies

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