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Drinking Water: A History Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 8, 2012

19 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, November 8, 2012
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Editorial Reviews


"What do Rome’s aqueducts, Napoleon’s death, and the pilgrimage site of Lourdes have in common?  All involve water: the leading ingredient of our bodies, essential for our daily lives, and the subject of innumerable struggles.  Why does bottled water, the cheapest and most abundant liquid, sell for more than the same volume of gasoline?  Even if you prefer to drink wine--it’s mostly water anyway--you’ll enjoy this book." --Jared Diamond, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel
"Instead of buying your next twelve-pack of bottled water, buy this fascinating account of all the people who spent their lives making sure you'd have clean, safe drinking water every time you turned on the tap." --Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"Drinking Water effortlessly guides us through a fascinating world we never consider. Even for people who think they know water, there is a surprise on almost every page." --Charles Fishman, bestselling author of The Big Thirst and The Wal-Mart Effect
"Meticulously researched, grandly conceived, and splendidly executed, Drinking Water takes a prosaic subject and makes it endlessly fascinating. Smart, witty, and perceptive, Drinking Water is essential reading." --Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It
"Salzman has produced gem of uncommon value--a fascinating book which slips in among its engaging stories their weighty implications for policy." --William K. Reilly, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former President of the World Wildlife Fund
"In his deeply thorough, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book, James Salzman shows why water security and quality are set to boil to the surface of world’s politics." --John Elkington, author of The Green Consumer’s Guide and Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business
"Immensely readable, the book weaves one entertaining story after another to show how we have thought about, valued, protected, and provided this most precious of all liquids." --Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and The Dominant Animal

About the Author

James Salzman holds the Samuel Mordecai chair at the School of Law and the Nicholas Institute Professor chair at the School of the Environment at Duke University. He has written extensively on the topics of environmental conservation, population growth, and climate change. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

For more information, please visit


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (November 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590207203
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By leslie j roche on November 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read! Drinking Water: A History is the rare entertaining page-turner that doubles as an awesome learning resource. Drinking water is essential to every society, but I had never really stopped to think about it. By tracing the history through fascinating stories and entertaining anecdotes, Salzman adds an indispensable book to both popular and scholarly non-fiction. Terrific book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Robinson on February 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Drinking Water, by James Salzman, is an informative read, though the end of the book is much more interesting than the beginning. If you already have a good understanding of the water treatment industry, and are short on time, I would recommend reading chapter 3 and the final two chapters. Please see below for a brief summary of each chapter.

The first few chapters (1, 2) detail the history of drinking water, as well as the history of the laws governing its uses. While somewhat interesting, I felt that these chapters were the weakest. They were basically just a number of anecdotes strung together, and didn't really tell me much that I didn't already know.

The middle of the book (chapters 3-5) is devoted to the safety of our drinking water. There is a chapter on biological pollutants, one on chemical pollutants, and one on possible terrorist attacks on the drinking water system. The key thing that I got out of these chapters is that it is impossible to make water (or anything else) 100% safe. Therefore, our society needs to decide how much risk is acceptable, and how much we are willing to pay to achieve that risk-level. I think this is the correct way to look at the drinking water issues in our country, as well as many other topics being debated in the news every day. While Drink Water re-iterated this risk versus expense point a number of times, I think that the topic is important enough to merit the amount of focus it was given.

The final chapters are, in my opinion, the best in the book. Salzman gets into various technologies and companies that are trying to revolutionize the drinking water industry in the coming years.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Hs on December 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Through the prism of this seemingly simple commodity, and with a wit as sharp as his narrative balance is smooth, Salzman focuses our attention on drinking water's complicated past and consequential future. Exploring the ambiguous phrase he claims as his title, Salzman illuminates the surprising depths of this seemingly shallow substance. Amongst the many essential ideas new to my understanding of the politics of water, Salzman's discussion of the consequences of the roles played by women and girls as "water bearers" in many developing countries has made a powerful impact. Opening with the aptly-named story of "Mother McCloud" as he does, the book, on a closer read, shows its keen political and social consciousness, something that has been a refreshing surprise amidst the other pieces I've read on related subjects. I'd recommend this book to readers who enjoy the following: historically-informed thinking, a dry wit, balanced journalism, mindfulness in politics, and clear-eyed story-telling.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Greg Osbornew on November 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent read! Entertaining from start to finish. By reading this book I learned an enormous amount about the political and social implications for clean drinking water. I couldn't recommend it more!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Zetland on December 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Salzman is a Duke professor of law and environmental policy and this book represents 6-8 years of his readings on water policies. This depth of experience -- he quotes many cases and examples -- helps him explain the varied history of drinking water. His work on law and policy means that he puts more-than-typical attention onto the various perspectives, allowing him to present a balanced view on most issues.

My only, topline, gripe is the mixed quality of the material in this book (it was written over several years with the help of several research assistants).

But let's go to my marginalia:

After a slightly boring introduction to our spiritual and cultural attachments to water, Salzman spends eight chapters reviewing the history of drinking water from the Romans (or before) to the "technological future"

Here and there, I found myself disagreeing with his emphasis on one factor or another (was "taking the waters" about the minerals or the fact that the water wouldn't kill you?). On other occasions, I was READY to disagree before Salzman landed some sound and useful words regarding points on my mind. There were far more good points, than bad ones, but I regret that Salzman appears to be citing Fishman as a "authority" when his work has got some issues.

I really enjoyed the historical chapters on the development of reliable water supplies in New York, London, Rome, etc., which he appeared to have covered in this 2006 paper.

I really enjoyed his discussion of water contamination and regulation in the US.
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