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Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Books and Water: Combining our greatest resources

When The Muffin sought reviewers to write about "Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization" by Steven Solomon (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers; $27.99; ISBN 9780060548308) I jumped at the chance.
Why would I want to dive into more than 500 pages about water?
Sure, I appreciate a good non-fiction read. But wouldn't a book on water be, well, ahem, a little dry? Admittedly, "Water" may not always be the most riveting read, in places trickling a little slowly.
However, Solomon understands the global and historical importance of water--how our planet with 70 percent water sets us apart from our solar system neighbors. He takes such a regular and taken-for-granted resource and, in a well-researched and well-written book, brings his readers along for an epic ride.
Solomon, a respected journalist, has succeeded in tackling a serious book about an amazing substance that affects all of us, no matter how much of your daily intact you actually drink or where you live. And water has impacted societies from the earliest times--and continues to do so.
Divided into four parts, Solomon takes his readers from the ancient times, explaining the importance of water and irrigation for early civilization. He incorporates the importance of water in early trade and the age of discovery. Water plays a role in the industrial society, giving way to the rise of our international focus. The fourth section, with the lens developed throughout the previous sections, brings readers into the "The Age of Scarcity." Solomon also addresses the politics of water in the twenty-first century.
One of my favorite parts of the book is Solomon's consideration of the importance of sanitation and clean water. England in 1858 was not the cleanest place to live and 25,000 Londoners had died from two cholera epidemics in the previous 10 years. Clean water was at a premium and, that summer, the heat and stench increased, giving rise to "The Great Stink." The stench succeeded where years of politicking had failed forcing Parliament to pass legislation (in 18 days) to "construct a proper sanitary sewerage system befitting the world's leading city."
Solomon writes: "Throughout history, water's life-giving indispensability had always been double-edged. On the one side, drinking two to three quarts of clean freshwater daily sustained each person's existence.... Yet simultaneously, drinking contaminated water and exposure to stagnant water bearing an infiltrating army of diseases also was the main source of human illness, abbreviated life spans, and physical miseries."
Those words may seem obvious to some, it is that accessibility coupled with the historical intricacies that makes this book so fascinating to read.
While the book may not be for everyone, I can see this book flying off shelves and becoming required reading in academic settings (perhaps an environmental studies course or two).
If you desire a captivating and accessible work about something we often take for granted, you should add this one to the top of your reading list.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. When she is not drinking the recommended daily allowance of water, she contributes to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.

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