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Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802715586
ISBN-10: 0802715583
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Passing references to water woes along the Colorado River and rainfall shortages in the Southeast that have cut hydropower pepper this dramatic report on the looming American (and global) water crisis. Workman filters his apocalyptic forecast through a slice of micro history: the (almost genocidal) 2002 decision of Botswana to force a minute population of Bushmen—inhabitants of the arid Kalahari Desert for tens of thousands of years—off their ancestral lands by sealing the only borehole that provided water to 1,000 desert dwellers and then dumping stored water into the dry sand. The heart of this numbing report on the government's use of water as weapon is Bushman matriarch Qoroxloo, whose ability to wring precious liquid from deep roots and animal carcasses is testament to a wise elder's gritty determination to help her band survive against formidable political and geographic odds. The author's belief that water-starved Western cultures might adapt to a coming age of permanent drought based on pragmatic Bushmen ways posits an unlikely cultural transformation, but his journalistic depiction of a tribal David's triumph over a governmental Goliath is riveting. (Aug.)
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"An astonishing synthesis of human and natural history, folly, scarcity, beauty, dignity and power."  --Rick Bass
"An investigative and story-telling triumph....showing a way back to accountability, sustainability, abundant life, and hope."--David James Duncan
"Workman's experiences and insights are fascinating, ... a real page-turner." --Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"A fascinating read and great adventure story."  --Bruce Babbitt
"A spellbinding tale, it may have implications for us all." Michael E. Campana, WaterWired

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715586
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #968,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gordon L. Brigham on November 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Often the most powerful messages come in the simplest form. The messae in "Heart of Dryness" is one of those, but it comes layered. Water is a scarce resource, be smart using and conserving it/We of the developed world may not have all the answers, and we should be humble, thankful and open to the wisdom of those whose "science" is deeper and more personal/The solutions to our problems today might well come in clever, even thoughtful thirty-second soundbites. It may well have to, since that seems increasingy to be the span of attention we have to deal with. However,it is the dedication, patience and persistence required to implement those solutions that is missing.

The author's journey in writing "Heart of Dryness" parallels the longer journey taken by the Bushmen he writes about. There is an instinctive awarensss of the injustices too prevalent in the world, and an understanding that science does not provide the only knowledge that can guide us. The narrative of human struggle is inseparable from the critical issue of water's role in the health and politics of the world.

The book weaves a compelling story that early on begins to raise the central question" "OK, growing water scarcity and waste in its usage is a pervasive issue for out times - but how can we tackle the problem?" The response to that question comes at the end of the book; it is concise and direct - longer than thirty-seconds but with the same impact. But as with the soundbites, the devil is in the details of execution and there is no encouraging indication that there is a growing leadership to move toward the complex steps of implementation.

This book is a must-read, whether you are a scientist concerned with water management, or a humanitarian searching for lessons and experience for others to live by.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Heart of Dryness, James Workman has shown how the most prosaic of resources--water--can become a flashpoint for far-reaching political conflicts. Botswana is one of the few African nations that can be said to have had a prosperous post-colonial experience, but as Workman demonstrates, its success has been built, at least in part, on manipulation of scarce water resources. The losers have been the Bushmen, an ancient, nomadic tribe that has long lived a low-impact existence in the Kalahari, using age-old conservation methods. At a time when the problem of water scarcity is taking on increasing importance in the environmental debate, Heart of Dryness is not merely another warning--though it is full of alarming portents--but also a fascinating legal drama. The Bushmen end up taking the government to court, asking for an affirmation to the human right to water. Workman spent a great deal of time with the Bushmen during their long fight, and his book bursts with the kind of details and nuances that can only come from lived experience. If you've come to this subject because you're interested in environmental issues, this book will teach you about Africa; if you've picked it up because you're fascinated by Africa, as I am, this book will open your eyes to a budding--but with political will, addressable--world water crisis. And if you are merely a fan of well-told stories, full of vivid characters and surprising insights, Workman's masterful book will not disappoint. There's nothing dry about it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book, worth reading if you have any interest in Africa, anthropology, or the "bushmen" (a.k.a. San).

What I found interesting about this book is different from what everyone else thinks this book is about. The Amazon blurb, and every review posted here so far, will tell you that this book is about how the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert in Botswana have learned to cope with extreme water shortage, and what we need to learn from them to cope with the upcoming global water shortage that will be caused by overpopulation and climate change. While this is indeed a theme of the book, it is not what I found to be the most interesting part.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari are one of the few remaining examples on the planet of people living a pre-civilized (i.e. hunter-gatherer) way of life. Sleeping under the stars, living in the desert, owning only what they can carry with them, and obtaining their food and water by hunting and gathering. For millions of years, that was how all humans lived. Then this thing called "civilization" came along about 6000 years ago. Civilization basically took over the planet, not because everyone suddenly realized "hey this is better, let's adopt it", but instead because (for reasons brilliantly explained by Jared Diamond in "Guns, Germs, and Steel"), every time civilization came into contact with pre-civilized people, civilization won. Simply put, "civilized" people killed most of the hunter-gatherers, and the few that remain are banished to the most forbidding corners of the planet, like the Kalahari desert.

So, what I find most interesting about this book is the glimpse it offers into what life was like for humans during those millions of years they lived as hunter-gatherers.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This readable, carefully documented little book seems essential reading for anyone not aware of the global water crisis--and important, fascinating reading for anyone who is.

Workman shares the example of the Bushmen, indigenous residents of Africa's dry Kalahari region, to illustrate one way that contemporary governments may cut off access to water in order to control independent-minded people. While he does share many of the Bushmen's strategies for thriving while using very little water themselves, the emphasis is on the role of water in power politics, both within a country and between nations.

For many Americans, this report may seem alarmist and distant. But, with 36 US states predicting water shortages in the very near future, last year's reports of droughts in Atlanta emerge as something more ominous than a freak, one-time occurence. As Workman explains, the warnings of "hand-wringing liberal environmentalists and social activists" are, this time, "amplified by nervous conservative, industrial interests, and development boosters preaching that the end of water [is:] nigh." Africa's Botswana, too, is not the only government willing to weaponize water by beseiging people it wants to move elsewhere. The US did the same thing, historically, to its own indigenous peoples, and has used the tactic in this century in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More essential than oil, more precious than gold or spices, water may be the resource that underlies power struggles in the years to come. That's a dark thought, because bystanders who can live without oil, gold, or spices will die without water.

Well-written, well-informed, and well-referenced, Heart of Dryness is also well worth reading.
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