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A 2022 Book of the Year in The Times, Prospect, The Sunday Times, and the TLS
Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography
Winner of the Premio MARetica

"Sparkling...delightful" -- The Guardian

★★★★★ -- "Revelatory" -- The Telegraph

"erudite and engrossing" --The Times

"A Triumph" -- Literary Review

"Enthralling" -- The Economist

"A superb study of two men caught in the astonishing ferment of the 16th century...exhilarating, whip-smart...This book is itself something of a wonder: beautifully written & utterly mesmerising. I loved every page." –– The Sunday Times

"fascinating, elegantly written" –– The Spectator

Out now in the UK (William Collins), Portugal (Bertrand), and Italy (Bollati Boringhieri), with editions  forthcoming in Spain (Ariel), Korea (Kachi), Ukraine (Laboratory) and Turkiye (Repair/Kitapyurdu).   

'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 HISTORY OF WATER follows the interconnected lives of two men across the Renaissance globe. One of them––an aficionado of mermen and Ethiopian culture, a collector of unusual art, a 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. Their stories 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. 


★★★★★ -- "Revelatory"

'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…'

Rupert Christiansen, The Daily Telegraph

‘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. He guides his readers through a kaleidoscope of detail, interrelating various themes with consummate skill, each time shedding very bright light on the origins of global history while remaining firmly rooted in the most meticulous yet unobtrusive scholarship

Fernando Cervantes, author of Conquistadores

‘This is a terrific book. Through an exploration of the lives and writings of two remarkable sixteenth century figures, Portugal’s epic poet, Luis de Camoes and the King’s archivist, Damiao de Gois, Edward Wilson-Lee sheds new light on both the Iberian voyages of discovery and on the way the Reformation affected everyone at the time, and raises questions that have gone on troubling us ever since: How can I know myself if I cannot know the Other?’
 Gabriel Josipovici, author of The Cemetary in 

‘I adored this. Not just a real-life murder mystery but a gloriously vivid picture of the early modern world and its global networks. At its centre is the extraordinary life of a kind of renaissance Zelig: a collector of Bosch, who dined with Luther and was taught Latin by Erasmus, who entertained Loyola, and was pursued by the Inquisition. This is a dazzling, encyclopaedic history’
Dennis Duncan, author of Index, A History of The

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