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Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization Hardcover – January 5, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
Solomon writes in an almost novel-like way through cavemen up to today and hints at some future trends as well. By using water as a combining thread throughout history, Solomon manages to make one civilization after another follow each other in a very logical, exciting and connected way.
Did you know that the first civilization to have flushing toilets started around 2700 BC in the Indus River Valley in India (Harappans)? Forget the decadent Romans. I was so flabbergasted and unbelieving that I had to Google it several times. Yup, it is true. So the USA got widely flushing toilets in the 18-1900s. Hmmmm, pretty cave Manish, aren't we?
"Water" is filled with fun bits of knowledge like this.
For suggestions for improvement, I would suggest adding a more detailed chapter on how water might affect us in the future. Sure, Solomon hints lightly that China and India are going into a near crisis mode as they run out of ground aquifers and river water as their glaciers melt. However, except for stating that the free market system in liberal democracies is shifting to better efficiency, he writes little of the USA's water future. Issues such as the Ogallala aquifer's future and its implications for the future USA and American river water, snow melt and huge reservoirs disappearing (which they are) seem to be lightly dealt with. Solomon ends on a seemingly very upbeat and perhaps blindly optimistic vision of the USA's water future while ignoring some very unsettled thoughts of some current US government hydrologists.
However, as a book describing civilization's past up till the present, it is in the class of Jared Diamond's classic "Collapse" and I highly recommend it. You will never be the same when you finish this book.
You don't have to be a history buff to enjoy sections of the book that explain how water played a key role in shaping past civilizations -- and that's a part of history that readers will rarely discover anywhere else. If I have any criticism, it's that this section isn't even longer. Solomon tells an important and fascinating story that will lead readers to think about tomorrow's challenges every time they turn on the tap.
Don't presume this is a depressing book. It isn't. You will learn a remarkable history, have stories to tell at the dinner table, and you will leave the experience with some concrete ideas on how to change the future of water.
[I sent a draft of this review to Steve, and he gave me quite a bit of informal feedback. I will be adding a summary of his responses in brackets below.]
Solomon tours the world, describing the role of water in civilizations past and present, and how their water management fits into his thesis, i.e., "societies that find the most innovative responses to the [modern water scarcity] crisis are most likely to come out as winners, while the others will fall behind" [p. 5].
This book is very helpful in helping us understand the similar and disparate ways that water has been used and managed across many cultures. I learned quite a bit about canals in England, the eastern US and China, for example.
The book is divided into four parts: Ancient History (from Ur to the Greeks to the Chinese to the Islamic conquest), the Ascendancy of the West (from early water wheels to voyages of discovery to the rise of steam power), the Modern Industrial Society (sanitation, canals and big infrastructure), and the Age of Scarcity (the new oil to the Middle East to Asian shortages to water politics in the West).
Here are a few notes that I took, more or less in order:
* Hammurabi's 53rd law said that the owner of badly-maintained dam (or levee) will pay the costs from flood damage, should the dam break.
* Solomon highlights a 2,500 year old water tunnel on Samos and 2,200 year old aqueduct/siphon to Pergamum (now near Bergama in Turkey) as marvels of engineering. I have visited these :)
* The Chinese character for politics is derived from characters that mean flood control.Read more ›
The other excess is the writing style. Echoing another reviewer's comments, there really needs to be an effort at editing. The tendency for run-on sentences and excessive adverb use gets to be grating. There is also a level of commentary I didn't need, with offhand comments that range from unnecessary (I lost track of how many events "changed the course of history") to the grating (like a passing comment that the United States won World War II).
This book did achieve my original intent, telling the story of water development. The descriptions in regions such as Egypt, India, the US, and China enhanced my understanding and were interesting. This was a worthwhile book but I truly think the author could have doubled the value by halving the content.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I gave considerably less than the current price for this work, and will _never_ pay more than $9.99 for a small electronic file that incurs virtually no printing, shipping or... Read morePublished 4 days ago by Phil Geusz
This is one of the most exceptional and insightful books that I have read in years. Steven ties the development of water resources to the development of civilization. Read morePublished 4 days ago by John N. Doggett
Mr. Solomon did an outstanding job of examining and explaining the crucial role of water in the success or failure of civilizations and cultures. Read morePublished 6 days ago by Amazon Customer
Great long term historical perspective on the influence of water on the rise and fall of civilizations and the crtical juncture with water use the United States is at in it's long... Read morePublished 16 days ago by Terry J. Britton
Everything you ever wanted to know about water! Very fascinating read with the history, money and politics that effect us all.Published 23 days ago by momb
This book could simply be titled "(Water) History of the World". I found it a little slow at the beginning (not so interested in history that far back I guess), but... Read morePublished 28 days ago by GOCALL
very educational review of the history of man, and the powerful influence of water.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
This is an incredibly insightful book. Never realized the impact and power of fresh water resources had on civilization. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Sailing Queen