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The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra

Nominated | Book Awards 2020 | English Non-fiction

The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra

Full Title: The Unquiet River: A Biography of the Brahmaputra

Author: Arupjyoti Saikia
Publisher: Oxford University Press

Award Category: English Non-fiction
About the Book: 

The unruly Brahmaputra has always been an agent in shaping both the landscape of its valley and the livelihoods of its inhabitants. But how much do we know of this river’s rich past?

Historian Arupjyoti Saikia’s biography of the Brahmaputra reimagines the layered history of Assam with the unquiet river at the centre. The book combines a range of disciplinary scholarship to unravel the geological forces as well as human endeavour which have shaped the river into what it is today. Wonderfully illuminated with archival detail and interwoven with narratives and striking connections, the book allows the reader to imagine the Brahmaputra’s course in history.

This evocative and compelling book will be interesting reading for anyone trying to understand the past and the present of a river confronted by the twenty-first century’s ambitious infrastructural designs to further re-engineer the river and its landscape.

About the Author: 

Arupjyoti Saikia is a professor of history at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India.


Arupjyoti Saikia is already known to be the leading historian of Assam. With this magnificent biography of the Brahmaputra, he has also established himself as India's pre-eminent environmental historian. This book beautifully and seamlessly transcends conventional binaries of hill and plain, land and water, economy and culture, social science and natural science. Using a dazzling array of primary sources, Saikia constructs a compelling narrative of the river's journey from geological time to the present, evoking the Brahmaputra's many moods, the forms of human livelihood it enables and constrains, the forms of non-human life it sustains and enhances. This is a total history in the best, and fullest, sense of the term. (-Ramachandra Guha)

'Lucky Brahmaputra, lucky Assam! If a river could get to choose, for its biographer, the most learned, comprehensive, scrupulous and yet sensitive scholar available, the Brahmaputra could not possibly have done better. Saikia's superb study is a model of interdisciplinary learning, hydrological knowledge and historical depth. The Yangzi and Indus must be green with envy.' (-James C. Scott)

'What kind of history can be told of a region by a river which is its lifeblood and lifeline? Crashing down from the Himalayas, moody and impervious to human efforts to engineer and tame it, the Brahmaputra has sustained the ecology of life and society of Assam, on its terms so far. Saikia's opus is magisterial, but not without passion, as he describes the human-river interactions from its geological bases to contemporary hydrological conceits.' (-Prasenjit Duara)

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