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The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water [Kindle Edition]

Charles Fishman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Rather than only three states of water—liquid, ice, and vapor—there is a fourth, “molecular water,” fused into rock 400 miles deep in the Earth, and that’s where most of the planet’s water is found. Unlike most precious resources, water cannot be used up; it can always be made clean enough again to drink—indeed, water can be made so clean that it’s toxic. Water is the most vital substance in our lives but also more amazing and mysterious than we appreciate. As Charles Fishman brings vibrantly to life in this surprising and mind-changing narrative, water runs our world in a host of awe-inspiring ways, yet we take it completely for granted. But the era of easy water is over.

Bringing readers on a lively and fascinating journey— from the wet moons of Saturn to the water-obsessed hotels of Las Vegas, where dolphins swim in the desert, and from a rice farm in the parched Australian outback to a high-tech IBM plant that makes an exotic breed of pure water found nowhere in nature—Fishman vividly shows that we’ve already left behind a century-long golden age when water was thoughtlessly abundant, free, and safe and entered a new era of high-stakes water. In 2008, Atlanta came within ninety days of running entirely out of clean water. California is in a desperate battle to hold off a water catastrophe. And in the last five years Australia nearly ran out of water—and had to scramble to reinvent the country’s entire water system. But as dramatic as the challenges are, the deeper truth Fishman reveals is that there is no good reason for us to be overtaken by a global water crisis. We have more than enough water. We just don’t think about it, or use it, smartly.

The Big Thirst brilliantly explores our strange and complex relationship to water. We delight in watching waves roll in from the ocean; we take great comfort from sliding into a hot bath; and we will pay a thousand times the price of tap water to drink our preferred brand of the bottled version. We love water—but at the moment, we don’t appreciate it or respect it. Just as we’ve begun to reimagine our relationship to food, a change that is driving the growth of the organic and local food movements, we must also rethink how we approach and use water. The good news is that we can. As Fishman shows, a host of advances are under way, from the simplicity of harvesting rainwater to the brilliant innovations devised by companies such as IBM, GE, and Royal Caribbean that are making impressive breakthroughs in water productivity. Knowing what to do is not the problem. Ultimately, the hardest part is changing our water consciousness.

As Charles Fishman writes, “Many civilizations have been crippled or destroyed by an inability to understand water or manage it. We have a huge advantage over the generations of people who have come before us, because we can understand water and we can use it smartly.” The Big Thirst will forever change the way we think about water, about our essential relationship to it, and about the creativity we can bring to ensuring that we’ll always have plenty of it.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. For the past 100 years, the developed world has enjoyed a cheap, safe, and abundant water supply, but Fishman (The Wal-Mart Effect) warns that everything about water is about to change—how we use it, how we share it, and how we value it. In an engrossing, globe-trotting narrative, he introduces the reader to people already grappling with water shortages—Patricia Mulroy, Las Vegas's no-nonsense water czar known as the best water manager in the country; the inhabitants of a neighborhood in Delhi who line up twice a day for water they must carry home. Since water cannot be created or destroyed, the challenge we face is not so much about water scarcity but rather how we can use it more equitably and protect it—the meaning of "clean" has a wholly new connotation in an era when we can pollute water in new ways with residues of medicine and plastics. Fishman notes that some of the most innovative ways of conserving water are coming from big businesses, including IBM, which has cut the water use in its microchip production 27% in the past eight years. A comprehensive, remarkably readable panorama of our dependence on—and responsibilities to—a priceless resource. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


"A timely warning about the dwindling global water supply." ---Kirkus

Product Details

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too important to ignore April 25, 2011
As an editor in the pulp and paper industry, I'm aware of what our own industry is doing to use less water and recycle and reuse the water that it does use. But this book has given me a much broader view of the water issue thanks to Mr. Fishman's clever writing, excellent research, and fascinating stories drawn from his global travels. He has achieved the seemingly impossible by writing an entire book about the single topic of water, and making it fascinating reading. I'll never look at or think about water the same way again, and I've already found myself looking for little ways in which I can reduce my use of this precious resource.
This should be required reading for everyone.

Glenn Ostle
Editorial Director/Associate Publisher
Paper360 magazine
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water, water everywhere April 24, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A whole book about water? Really?

We all know water is precious and important in our lives, but like most U.S. citizens, I used to take safe, clean water for granted.

Never again after reading "The Big Thirst." The book is compelling and fun to read, serious and hopeful.

Charles Fishman is a great storyteller and writer. With humor and facts, he identifies and explores vital issues as he travels to Las Vegas, Australia, India, UAE and beyond. He presents ideas, information and critical issues in a thoughtful and calm manner.

This important and book changed the way I think about water, and has lessons for individuals, communities and policy makers.

I no longer feel numbed by water worries; I even feel hopeful. And I keep thinking about my relationship with water, including why a body of water makes me so happy, and why some fountains are amazing and others are just annoying (you know the type). This book will keep me (and others) thinking and talking about water for a long time to come.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written, but essential December 25, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Never have I read a book so useful, so essential, but yet so terribly written. You can't afford not to read it, but as the author repeats himself over and over and over again (in exactly the same words even sometimes), you find yourself wishing there were a Cliff's Notes version where you could take in the information without all the useless wordiness. It's a tiresome drudgery of a book, but you really can't afford not to read. It's essential, but boring; useful, but tedious; necessary, but somnambulistic. If you can get through this review without wanting to wring my might be ok.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
In this well-researched and engaging book, reminiscent of his story-telling abilities in the Walmart Effect, Fishman makes a key assertion that we have "ignored" water and its supplies and more importantly, its economic value. Intertwining stories from IBM's effort in ultra-pure water management for chip manufacturing, Las Vegas's battle on creating an "oasis in desert", deep-rooted cultural and political issues in Australia and India, Fishman clearly highlights the growing challenges and the need for re-framing our discussion on the use of this resource. In terms of understanding our relation with water, this book expands our understanding and sharpens the urgency that was communicated by another thought provoking book - a few years ago - Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. Sadly, both these two books haven't necessarily gotten the attention they deserve.

(For more details on the chapters, please refer my blog post via my profile page)

Fishman starts off with a pithy chapter positing that our attitude towards water is "filled with contradictions" and hypothesizes that the "invisibility" of the supply system and prevalent philosophies on water being free (of cost) are its biggest vulnerabilities. He follows up with a chapter that explains water's origin, geological concepts on "watery rocks", "Earth ocean" and water cycles. Reading about inter-galactic water formation is in itself a treat. He then discusses different issues regarding water supplies, philosophies on its usage, socio-political-economic implications - using different stories.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun to read...cautionary tale...but optimistic May 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Truly entertaining stories that accomplish what few books of this type do: provides a stern warning without attempting to frighten. The book takes a hard look at some very dire situations but also provides some specific examples of places around the globe that have figured out an answer. Charles Fishman has crafted an impressionist painting that can be seen as a business book, a political book, a human drama, or a primer on the science and economics of water. The book takes the reader on a worldwide tour, from the splashy hotels on the Vegas strip to the poorest slums of India and lots of places in between.

No matter your expectations, this book will exceed them.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Problem-solving at its best April 28, 2011
The Big Thirst is a wonderful read.

Too often, I find books about major global issues to be pretty grim. Fishman (great name for a water writer) uses a light touch, as he takes you to places where water crises have dominated people's lives -- from Mumbai to Las Vegas to Toowoomba. From these far-flung locales, he reports on not only the staggering challenges people face, but also their solutions. He shows how determined people have successfully tackled problems of filthy or scare water, sometimes by thinking outside the box, and sometimes by taking matters into their own hands.

Nothing short of inspiring.
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