Maarten Asscher


Op zoek naar de bronnen van Nederland

A history of Dutch water

H2Olland is the least assertive book ever written about the Netherlands. Here is a Dutchman who confesses to feeling ill at ease with his nationality, who during his life, as he puts it, ‘has more often daydreamed of turning his back on the Netherlands than of crawling deeper into its lap.’ That is nevertheless exactly what he does, he crawls into his country’s lap and shows it to us at its most intimate level.

Maarten Asscher contemplates his native land by way of its water: the controlled inundation used by the Dutch to defend their country, the effects of water on their urban lives, the flooding disasters they have endured and the flood defences built against them, their canals and land reclamation, their water consumption and love of beaches, their skating mania and polder management, their splendid mills and water-towers, tunnels and bridges, the poetry of their dykes and canal boats, their painting tradition and their royal family. He touches it all as if with a magic wand.

The intimate feel of the book is heightened by its concentration on a single representative of each phenomenon or theme. The military applications of managed flooding are made tangible in Pampus Island and urban water in The Hague’s Hofvijfer (Court Lake), while disasters are epitomized by the horrific floods of 1953 and skating by the Elfstedentocht race. Asscher writes about his own direct connection with each of them. Pampus is where he organized a birthday party for his children, a major tunnel under the North Sea Canal tells his parents’ story, the Dutch coast is a walk, the De Valk Mill a home, his wife seems to have made a personal cult out of bottled spring-water and he has some fairly eccentric bathing habits of his own.

Asscher has the eye of a collector, holding up each subject for a moment like a devoted custodian before setting it down in the context where it belongs. The wealth of detail, unusual angles and extraordinary observations, along with some hilarious quantitative data, give H2Olland a completeness apparently at odds with its lightness. This is an encyclopaedia in miniature, a paper boat for a pleasure trip through Holland.

  • Explains why Dutch windmills turn anticlockwise, why Dutch people consume considerably less bottled water than other Europeans, and much else about the innate connection between the Netherlands and water
  • Combines research, narrative and reportage to offer a unique insight into some characteristic aspects of Dutch culture, landscape and history

English rights:

Amsterdam University Press

Maarten Asscher excels at essays and articles on subjects you didn’t know interested you but are tempted into by his enthusiasm, his thirst for historical facts, and his graceful, elegant style.

De Volkskrant

Sometimes light-footed, sometimes melancholic, but always apposite.

De Morgen

It is rare for a writer to be so elegant, sharp and erudite at the same time.



Maarten Asscher

Maarten Asscher trained as a lawyer, then became a writer and a publisher before turning to booksell­ing as director of the Athenaeum Bookshop in Amsterdam. He has published a collection of poetry, Night Fodder (2002), a novel called The Hour and the Day (2005) and a book about the Netherlands and…

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H2Olland. Op zoek naar de bronnen van Nederland (2009). Non-fiction, 222 pages.
Words: 55,000
Copies sold: 3,000

With illustrations in black-and-white and references



Prinsengracht 911-915
NL - 1017 KD Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 524 98 00
Fax: +31 20 627 68 51

[email protected]

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