Drinking Water: A History by James Salzman

Drinking Water: A History provides an open-minded, wide-view of perhaps the most vital resource in human history. I was extremely excited when I first found this book, and it did NOT disappoint.

Over the course of one week, I methodically annotated each of the 258 pages with a complicated personal system of underlines, squiggles, stars, and boxes reserved for my most engaging books.

It’s my conviction that the fundamental basics of human life provide the biggest challenges and opportunities to addressing the grand visions of justice we aspire to. The path towards social, environmental, and economic justice requires critical emphasis on healthy food, reliable shelter, clean air and safe water.

But the short and simple subtitle is what differentiates this book in the face of other contemporary conversations around water – History.

The same fundamental challenges of drinking water have existed since before the Roman empire. Effective solutions to contemporary challenges must take into account the unique forces at play throughout human civilization.

To Salzman, this means understanding water as a multifaceted resource. Water has always had physical, cultural, social, political, and economic significance. Overlooking any one of these factors can sabotage any attempt to make real progress.

To get a sense for this comprehensive range, just check out the chapter titles:

1. The Fountain of Youth

2. Who Gets to Drink?

3. Is It Safe to Drink the Water?

4. Death in Small Doses

5. Bigger Than Soft Drinks

7. Need Versus Greed

8. Finding Water for the Twenty-first Century

Although the book was published in 2012 (and its age occasionally shows), Salzman’s words remain profoundly relevant. Ultimately, this book points the reader back to the massive challenges currently facing wealthy and poor countries alike.

The last chapter, “Finding Water for the Twenty-first Century” even looks to the future, and it does so with optimism. Salzman honestly explores a wide variety of potential solutions – embracing their promise, but never shying away from draw backs and cautionary tales.

On every page – without fail – Drinking Water: A History provides a comprehensive, balanced, and detailed perspective to a fundamentally overlooked topic. If you’re anything like me, you should read this book. You won’t be disappointed.

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