Science Book a Day Interviews Robert Twigger


Special thanks to Robert Twigger for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Red Nile: The Biography of the World’s Greatest River

Robert’s Homepage/Blog:
Robert’s Twitter:

#1 – What was the impetus for Red Nile?

I was living in Cairo by the Nile and one day I thought- why Not? at the time I was writing about deserts so this seemed a big leap, but actually the Nile is Egypt in some senses. But I found that the rest of the river that coils deep into the heart of Africa is just as fascinating.

#2 – How did you decide what aspects of the long history of the Red Nile to focus on?

This was hard. then from nowhere it seemed,while I was ill one Xmas- i had an insight- we have white and blue Niles- why not a Red Nile- focusing on the best stories- those with blood, passion, intrigue, all of life…so this became my initial selection device. I then found I could use the oral tradition of storytelling along the Nile as an additional way of organising my material. I use hundreds of proverbs this way, one at the start of each chapter, all collected from Uganda, Ethiopia, Nubia etc.

#3 – How has our understanding of the Nile changed over time?

At first it was mysterious- no other river in the known world flooded in summer rather than winter. then it became essential to life in egypt in ancient and Islamic times. It became a conduit for slaves and ivory from africa. Finally it became a geopolitical tool for controlling nations- using water to reward or punish nations along its route. yet it also remains a mystery as it always has done and I hope my book goes some way to showing all of these phases without missing out the essential mystery.

#4 – How did the Nile give rise the theory of circulation, 400 years before William Harvey?

An Islamic scholar, Ibn Al- Nafis, working in Egypt, right at the place where the Nile forms the delta, realised that blood ebbs and flows through the body just as the flood in summer pumped water all through the arteries and veins of the Nile delta. His work was translated into Latin and was almost certainly known to Harvey who later studied in Europe where the book was well known.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

I am researching and writing a Biography of the Himalayas called by another colour: White Mountain, it should be out in 2016. Inshallah!

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