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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too important to ignore
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...
Published on April 25, 2011 by Glenn Ostle

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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written, but essential
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...
Published on December 25, 2011 by locomote


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40 of 44 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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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water, water everywhere, April 24, 2011
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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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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun to read...cautionary tale...but optimistic, May 3, 2011
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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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written, but essential, December 25, 2011
This review is from: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (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 again...one 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 neck...you might be ok.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invisibility of water supply systems and the resulting vulnerability.., May 25, 2011
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.

The stories include the reframing of the water problem in Las Vegas, hidden costs of distribution (Galveston), ultrapure water management in microchip manufacturing (IBM), reclaimed water (Toowoomba, Australia), and impact of changing weather patterns and water usage, especially on agriculture. The chapter on India highlights a core issue in water management - the rich can "opt out of the public system" leaving the system more vulnerable. Like most Western writers, South India, never seems to register in Fishman's conscience. The constant struggle for the river water among four southern states could have made an excellent foil to explain the political implications (elections have been won and lost on the famous "Cauvery/Kaveri" water issue - which is never alluded to in the book. Fishman then concludes with a set of 2 chapters that expands his premise that the key reason preventing smarter water management is the notion that "water should be free".

Fishman adopts a very easygoing narrative style filled with plenty of examples and analogies (especially when it comes to providing a reader the scale of the problem or concept he is referring to). A reader is also treated to interesting stats on water usage (none of which is flattering to the US consumption patterns). The 50+ pages of citations and end notes are a great resource and also a testament of thorough editorial process that makes the main text not only very informative but also engaging enough that one will be hard pressed to leave the book unfinished in a sitting. A reader is guaranteed not to look at water or the issues surrounding it in the same way after you read this book. The companion website, with the entire endnotes and excerpts is another useful resource for a more curious reader.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Problem-solving at its best, April 28, 2011
By 
Flora Fauna (Western Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go ahead, dive in, May 3, 2011
I confess. I read the Wal-Mart Effect, Fishman's previous book, and I didn't see how this one could be as good. It's water, after all. How interesting could it be?
Answer: Fabulously. I would read his next book if it were about dirt. "The Big Dry." Whatever. He starts with a story about how water was used to launch the space shuttle. Not to prevent fires or anything, but to absorb sound. If NASA didn't release a bazillion gallons of water at the launch, the sound waves would have bounced up and smashed the shuttle to pieces. Or how about this: Water is the key ingredient in microwave popcorn. Or, anything that is microwaved. Why? Because the microwaves are actually heating the water molecules inside the popcorn. Who the Hell knew?
Anyway, the book is jammed with stuff like this. It is -- incredibly -- a fun romp. But it's more than that. It's a thoughtful, sustained exploration of our attitudes about water, about the many ways in which we hold the solutions to our water problems in our own hands. Don't miss the chapter about Las Vegas, where an unlikely hero helped turn that city into a model for creative water policy. Fishman even goes on his own water walk, in India, with young women who can't take the time to go to school, to get an education, because they have to walk hours back and forth to fetch water every day.
What "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is to food, "The Big Thirst" is to water. I suggest you take the plunge.*

* Fishman also catalogues every damn water reference in the English language which is, it turns out, awash in them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything you never knew or thought about water, September 6, 2011
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I came to The Big Thirst as someone who was already pretty water conscious (some think obsessed), and a definite water conservationist. But, wow, all that I had never thought about water Charles Fishman has contained in this book in a thought provoking, entertaining and instructive way. This is in no diatribe designed to make us feel guilty about our water ignorance (although Fishman does rant on Arlen Specter at one point near the end, and rightfully so), but rather a series of stories crafted to heighten our awareness, in an attempt as the author says "to change our relationship to water".

From Australia to India, down the strip of Las Vegas, around the Gulf Coast of Texas to Vermont and elsewhere Fishman takes the reader on a tour of man's challenges and successes in managing our water usage, distribution systems as well as the effect on mankind, the economy and lastly gets the reader thinking about where the next million or billion gallons is coming from.

This book is a treat for anyone who has stopped for even one minute to wonder where our water really flows from and if someday it might not.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Description of Water Resources and Global Water Policies, April 3, 2013
Charles Fishman, longtime newspaper reporter and author of the bestselling book The Wal-Mart Effect, has published an excellent book about the water resources we so frequently take for granted.

Fishman traveled the world gathering stories and technical details about how water is managed, developed, delivered, used, and misused, putting all this information together in a compelling manner in The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

Great Information, Excellent Writing

Fishman does more than merely spell out the facts, challenges, and opportunities presented by water resources, he does so with the talent of an expert writer who can vividly bring to life topics that might seem mundane if presented by a less skillful writer.

I heartily recommend The Big Thirst to readers who want a world tour of water problems with excellent profiles of the people either impacted, involved, or in control.

One must take some of Fishman's assertions with caution, however: He believes humans are creating a global warming crisis and he weaves those beliefs into his narrative. But separating his facts from his opinions is fairly easy. Ultimately, he is optimistic about our ability to supply adequate quantities of water to the world's population.

Fishman adores numbers and statistics and presents them liberally, but he occasionally gets some incorrect, such as his statement that more than 100 billion people have lived over the past 50,000 years. The commonly accepted number is less than half that amount.

He frequently portrays water in poetic imagery, which is not at all unjustified. Fishman describes water as "tirelessly resilient, ... participating in a mind-bending array of physical, chemical, biochemical, geological and human created process every minute of a day."

More People Using Less Water

Fishman accurately recounts progress in the United States in using water much more judiciously than in years past. Americans use less water today than we did in 1980, not just in per-capita terms but also in absolute terms, he explains. He notes water use in the United States peaked in 1980 at 440 billion gallons per day. Now, 25 years later, we are using less than 410 billion gallons a day even though our population increased by 70 million people.

Early on, Fishman indicates his belief vast additional quantities of water lie deep within the Earth. In doing so, he missed an opportunity to reference my book on the very same subject, coauthored with Robert Bisson, Modern Groundwater Exploration. We will forgive Fishman for his oversight though I suspect he will appreciate the additional information our book provides on the topic.

Contrasts in Water Policies

Fishman's strongest chapter, "Dolphins in the Desert," features Las Vegas. Area water manager Patricia Mulroy has spent 20 years teaching a wide variety of conservation techniques that allow the hotels to seemingly flaunt their water use in fountains and greenery while impressing on area residents the need to conserve their scarce water resources with tender love and care. This chapter is a fantastic tutorial on water management where water could hardly be of shorter supply.

In contrast to Las Vegas's wise water policies where water is scarce, Fishman discusses Atlanta's poor policies where water would seem to be more abundant. He then takes the reader on a water tour through Texas and California farmland, favorably describing agriculture biotechnology company Monsanto's vigorous work to develop drought-tolerant crops.

"Monsanto is spending tens of millions of dollars a year developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops--plants whose genes have been tweaked so, biologically, they make better use of less water," writes Fishman.

Fishman spends 107 pages describing water issues in Australia, where water is in short supply. You will learn everything about Adelaide's and Perth's water supply and the Murray River basin. This is certainly interesting and not dissimilar to many places in the United States, such as the over-allocation of the Colorado River serving California farmers and Las Vegas casinos.

Fishman then moves on to India, where the world's largest democracy has arguably the worst water supply system. Nearly half the nation depends on water trucks driving the streets and allowing people to fill their buckets from the backs of the trucks.

Tales Tied Together

The book reminds me of Freakonomics, where authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner tied together unrelated stories vaguely connected to economic principles and ended up with a bestseller that had little academic rigor. Fishman takes a similar tack, but his stories and personal profiles are outstanding.

Fishman brings water issues home to consumers. He tells us how much water is used in creating a pair of Levi's blue jeans and how much water is desalted and used each day on a cruise ship. His description of the bottled water industry is interesting but at times a little too preachy.

Markets Can Solve Problems

Fishman powerfully explains the primary cause of water problems: Governments have made water free or nearly free for most people. Putting a price on water, he observes, seems heartless when everybody needs it. The downside, however, is that free water causes people to misuse water. Without market incentives, many important water problems will remain unsolved.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (jlehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thirst Quenched, August 29, 2011
By 
Bill Soucie (Lake Bluff, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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As a water quality lab supervisor working at a water plant, this book provides great background information and expands the sometimes insular world in which we live. This book covers very interesting topics about water in general but it is especially interesting to learn about water issues in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Australia and India.
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