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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.
A capable copy editor (there is no sign even of an incapable one) could have done much to enhance the value of the text. Despite the fascinating content I was sorely tempted more than once to give up on slogging through repetition, redundancy, bloviation, repetition, redundancy: you get the idea. The publisher should issue a public apology.
And then there are the typos, the graceless framing of sentences, and other scriptorial infelicitations that drive a person like me (who loves language and the clean, lucid exposition of facts and ideas clearly expressed) in the direction of the liquor cabinet.
Perseverance and sobriety carried the day in the end. I pressed on against the odds, and I recommend that others do so too. But I can't tell you this isn't going to hurt a little.
[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 ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 2 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 1 month ago by Sailing Queen
Fascinating exposition about how water has influenced society and what various cultures have done to tame and provide it. The story of China and their grand canal is amazing. Read morePublished 1 month ago by J. Sanchez
Excellent book. Puts every glass of water you drink or every car wash in a new lightPublished 1 month ago by Dennis Eaton
Great perspective from which to examine history - past, present & future;)Published 1 month ago by Cristos7
Comprehensive and well written overview of a complex subjectPublished 1 month ago by Mary C. Gillaspy