History and art criticism, with a dash of memoir thrown in, Robert Clark's Dark Water chronicles how the flood of November 4, 1966 - in which four million books, 14,000 works of art and 16 miles of documents were either damaged or destroyed - came to define the Italian city of Florence. Clark begins with a history of the city: its literary and artistic greats, its sins, its transformation into a tourist haven, and of course, its centuries of flooding. With each catastrophe, Florence's residents were quick to place blame on God, their politicians or their immoral lifestyles.

Clark continues his layered account with profiles of the residents, artists and volunteer "mud angels" who began to salvage Florence's treasures that November as the Arno River rushed by, improvising conservation and restoration on the spot. Throughout his evocative, detailed prose, he reflects on the city's character and the ephemeral nature of beauty itself.

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