A History of Water: Being an Account of a Murder, an Epic and Two Visions of Global History

By Edward Wilson-Lee

A Times History Book of the Year 2022

A TLS Book of the Year 2022

‘Exhilarating and whip-smart’ THE SUNDAY TIMES

From award-winning writer Edward Wilson-Lee, this is a thrilling true historical detective story set in sixteenth-century Portugal.

A History of Water follows the interconnected lives of two men across the Renaissance globe. One of them – an aficionado of mermen and Ethiopian culture, an art collector, historian and expert on water-music – returns home from witnessing the birth of the modern age to die in a mysterious incident, apparently the victim of a grisly and curious murder. The other – a ruffian, vagabond and braggart, chased across the globe from Mozambique to Japan – ends up as the national poet of Portugal.

The stories of Damião de Góis and Luís de Camões capture the extraordinary wonders that awaited Europeans on their arrival in India and China, the challenges these marvels presented to longstanding beliefs, and the vast conspiracy to silence the questions these posed about the nature of history and of human life.

Like all good mysteries, everyone has their own version of events.

Format: Hardback
Release Date: 04 Aug 2022
Pages: 368
ISBN: 978-0-00-835822-8
Having grown up in Kenya and Switzerland, with periods living in Mexico, Zimbabwe, and the United States, Edward Wilson-Lee now lives in Cambridge, where he teaches Renaissance literature and is a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. His research focuses on books, libraries, and travel, which during this project has involved journeys to and through Spain, Italy, India, and the Caribbean. He is the author of Shakespeare in Swahililand and The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, which won the Pen Hessell-Tiltman Prize.


‘[An] exhilarating book… passionate… employing prose as luscious as it is meticulous… delightful’The Guardian -

‘Erudite and engrossing…the book combines literary flair with deep historical insight… One of its many strengths is its vivid characterisation of people and places, not least those of Lisbon life high and low’The Times -

‘This exhilarating and whip-smart book…presents two competing visions of global history through the lives of two Portuguese travellers…This book is itself something of a wonder: beautifully written and utterly mesmerising. I loved every page’The Sunday Times -

”'Enthralling throughout” - The Economist

”'A wonderful - and wonder-full - recreation of a crucial episode in European history…the book has a rare beauty: written with elegant restraint, its every page is rich in a numinous sense of vanishings and misunderstandings” - Daily Telegraph

‘Fascinating, elegantly written’The Spectator -

”'A fascinating, ingenious and wonderfully readable book, brilliantly conceived… The book is a triumph.” - David Abulafia, Literary Review

‘A very few times in the course of a reader's life a book appears that shatters one's assumptions about how and why things came to pass. A History of Water is one such book. A mind-blowing achievement’Alberto Manguel, author of The Library at Night -

‘A truly engrossing read. Wilson-Lee has the rare knack of re-visiting even the most familiar places as if they were being discovered for the first time. His prose is rich, fluent, absorbing, and free from any affectation’Fernando Cervantes, author of Conquistadores -

‘This is a terrific book’Gabriel Josipovici, author of What Ever Happened to Modernism? -

‘I adored this… This is a dazzling, encyclopaedic history’Dennis Duncan, author of Index, A History of The -