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The River Knows

The River Knows: How Water and Land Will Shape Our Future | Neil Hamilton | 9781948509442 | 276 trade paper | $24.95 | Available Now

A natural sequel to Hamilton’s popular book The Land Remains comes The River Knows which examines our relationship with water by considering its role in our culture, society, and political economy. The history of Iowa has been largely shaped by our rivers—both in geologic and natural terms and in utilitarian ways. Looking to the future our relationship with rivers continues to evolve, making them the focus of controversy, such as protecting water quality, and of hope in efforts to restore them as natural sources for citizens to value and enjoy.

The story of our relation to the water—and the land—is told in part by the Raccoon River—which lends its voice to offer a different perspective for us to consider. The river does know a great deal about our history, motivations, and hopes. It is at the center of many of our most pressing ecological challenges including how we address a changing climate. If we take time to watch and listen, the river can help lead us to a more resilient and rewarding future in our relation to nature and to each other.

Insightful, provocative, and humorous by turns, The River Knows is a thought-provoking discussion of how industrial agriculture, conservative politics, religion, and climate change combine to challenge the legions of citizens looking for hope on the river and in nature.

Praise for The River Knows:

A powerful sequel to Hamilton’s The Land Remains. With clarity and a unique style, Hamilton takes on the forces, philosophy, and economic ‘religion’ that is destroying our soil and polluting our rivers and streams, with a corresponding degradation of our social values of individual and collective responsibility. He pulls no punches! This is a provocative book, which is a must read for all who care about our environment and a future of sustainable and regenerative farming.”
—Sen. Tom Harkin, US Senator 1985-2015

“This is a rare and remarkable book about the interplay between nature and man. The River Knows: How Water and Land Will Shape Our Future, should be required reading for anyone who cares about fresh water and wants to know what is wrong, what is right, and how to turn public policy from the wrong way to the right way. Hamilton is an esteemed professor emeritus of agriculture, natural resources and food law, but this book is written for a general audience. Sometimes the book is amusing, as when the often grumpy “character” who is Iowa’s Raccoon River speaks up about the harms caused by bad public policy and industrial agriculture that have polluted its waters and destroyed its functions (recreation, wildlife habitat, fresh water). Sometimes, Hamilton himself is white-hot with rage on the stupidity of politicians (he names them) who enable catastrophic harm to rivers, streams, and the human beings who depend on fresh water. Yet, Hamilton’s book is hopeful. It is replete with solutions that will fix the problems that he calls out. The River Knows is for everyone concerned about the future of their children and grandchildren. While primarily set in Iowa, the truths it tells are applicable in every state.”
—Sarah Vogel, Attorney and author of The Farmer’s Lawyer

“Challenges abound when striving to protect soil and water quality in an Ag-Driven state. But so do solutions. No one knows better the abuses it’s endured and the pathways to prevention than the highly compromised Raccoon River and its equally wise friend Professor Hamilton. Read this not just to understand the problems we face but to support the hope of a more just future for communities, water, and soil through the actions this thoughtful river knows all about.”
—Pat Boddy, former deputy and interim director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and senior partner emeritus of RDG Planning and Design in Des Moines

“Captivatingly integrates science with sage wisdom. Adding a spice of history to help us understand Iowa’s original water quality and, more importantly, why water quality challenges exist today. Hamilton offers a personal perspective about Iowa’s challenges and how we might address those challenges and does not shy away from some of the thorniest issues in this agricultural state. The read is delightful, will stimulate passion in many, and will stir discussions around the dinner table.”
—Rick Cruse, Richard Cruse, professor in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University and Director of the Iowa Water Center

“Professor Hamilton has given the river a voice. May we have ears to listen! This book challenges us to think and act in ways that can heal our land and water, now as well as for future generations.”
—Joe McGovern, President, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

“Agricultural law visionary, Neil Hamilton has once again given us a rich story with an incredibly powerful message. The River Knows is a call to action. Using history, geology, law, and personal insight, Hamilton allows the river to speak to us. And what it says should cause people to shudder. Hamilton concludes with “big ideas” and “imagination” to guide the reader to the solutions we desperately need.”
—Susan A. Schneider, William H. Enfield Professor of Law; Director, LLM Program in Agricultural & Food Law

“Neil Hamilton reveals the true nature of our most precious natural resources —our rivers and streams. His piercing analysis and reflective approach to understanding our rivers is a must read for anyone thinking about clean water issues in Iowa. Our rationale for protecting and restoring these natural resources has never been more clear as Hamilton makes the case concretely and creatively in his critical approach that we cannot and must not ignore.”
—Luke Hoffman, Iowa Rivers Revival, Executive Director

“A comprehensive reflection of the river’s soul. Neil Hamilton brilliantly articulates the embodiment of the river’s voice in truth, with no stone unturned. Humanity is left to wonder about our priorities regarding vital natural resources— soil, water, habitat—our spark for life.”
—Christine A. Curry, Upper Mississippi River Initiative, Iowa Outreach Coordinator

“If you enjoyed The Land Remains, you will love The River Knows, Hamilton’s newest book connecting us to nature. Like a river, it flows with interesting and useful information while carrying us past the landmarks of history that have landed us where we are today.”
—Jerry L. Anderson (he/his), Dean and Richard M. and Anita Calkins Distinguished Professor of Law, Drake University Law School

“I enjoyed the book and it challenged me as it should. For everyone who lives in a watershed anywhere, but, especially here in Iowa, it is a must read! Professor Hamilton eloquently sets the stage for the river to speak. Bring your values with you and see how they stack up to what The River Knows.”
—Paul Willis, Niman Ranch Pork Co., Director/Founder

“A poignant and biting commentary on Iowa, its people and natural resources.”
—Mark Rasmussen, Director Emeritus, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University

“The River Knows is a critically important read for everyone who dreams of seeing Iowa’s rivers once again flow clean and clear. Neil Hamilton’s engaging, eye-opening exploration of the historic, social, political, and economic aspects of Iowa’s water problems has much to teach us.”
—Cornelia F. Mutel, editor of Tending Iowa’s Land: Pathways to a Sustainable Future

Neil Hamilton is an emeritus professor of law and the former director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines. He retired from full-time teaching in 2019 after thirty-eight years of focusing on agriculture and food law. Raised on his family farm in Adams County, he attended Iowa State University for Forestry and the University of Iowa for Law. Teaching, writing, and consulting work led to travels around the globe and across the state and nation. His advice is sought by Presidential candidates, cabinet secretaries, reporters, and others looking for insight on issues involving farming, rural society, conservation, and land tenure. He has served for decades on a variety of non-profit boards including the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Seed Savers Exchange. He lives with his wife Khanh at Sunstead Farm, a market garden oasis they created on Sugar Creek, near Waukee, just west of Des Moines. His previous book was The Land Remains.