The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water
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The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  617 ratings  ·  143 reviews
The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Rather than only three states of water—liquid, ice, and vapor—there is a fourth, “molecular water,” fused into rock 400 miles deep in the Earth, and that’s where most of the planet’s water is...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Free Press (first published April 12th 2011)
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Jan 29, 2013 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who drink water, people who are not dumb-ass climate change denialists
Books about environmental and economic issues are always kind of depressing, because it's really easy to show examples of how very badly we are screwing ourselves over on an epic scale. Like most authors of such books, Charles Fishman shows us how very, very bad it's getting and then tries to end on an optimistic note: "Hey, we have the technology and the science, and if we just behave like rational adults who know we're all in this together, we can solve this problem!"

Uh huh, how often does tha...more
This is a superb book and one that should be required reading for every human being. Instead of reading some of the drivel (classics) in high school, kids should read about the single most important element in life, water. There is something enigmatic about our attitude about water. Our attitude about water is something akin to the old song line, "you only really appreciate something when you lose it". This book is not a polemic or screaming about yet another crisis. Although water is becoming a...more
One of the best books I've read in a long time, found and purchased by my long-suffering wife as a Christmas gift. She found it for sale inside a well-known U.S. government Department. I was pleasantly surprised to see unvetted ideas flowing running on tap near, if perhaps not quite in, the corridors of power. [note to self: keep the dopey water puns under control]

“Some water needs to be secure and guaranteed for everyone, at the lowest possible cost, outside the market system, and some water ne...more
My brain is waterlogged.
Open "The Big Thirst" to any page, plump your finger down at any spot at random, and you'll probably come across something about water you didn't know or hadn't thought about. At least that's the way I experienced it.
It gets to be almost too much about water, but it's certainly well-reported and well-told and ultimately I think it's going to have an effect on how I think about water.
The thesis is straight-forward. The golden era of water is over, Fishman says. Abundant, c...more
Definitely makes you think differently about our relationship to water, and for that, it is valuable. However, the book overemphasizes and repeats (and repeats and repeats) some information, while ignoring other very interesting and relevant issues. To wit, Fishman skirts delicately around the issue of climate change (probably in an attempt to target a wide American audience without offending those who think that climate change isn't really a fact) without really addressing it as a major issue a...more
Steele Dimmock
Ultra Pure Water is toxic, Recycled waste water can be made cleaner then regular tap water, bottled water is unregulated and worse than municipality water. These were just some of the interesting factoids I got from this book.

The book is very america-centric but the author travels to Australia and India to explain the water issues impacting these other two countries. The details that he goes in to around Toowoomba, Perth and Adelaide water crisis' is impressive. The magnitude I was previously ob...more
Great book on our most important and most taken for granted natural resource. Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, the book is worth a read to understand how we use water and how we need to change our water culture.
I've often wondered why clean safe drinking water from our faucet seems too good to be true. This book explains why we shouldn't take that for granted and what we can do to keep that in our future
Jim Duncan
Eye opening - can debate whether part of the issue is climate change but clear that our century of essentially free and unlimited access to clean water is over for the developed world. Amazing how developing countries like India have taken a step back in access to clear water. Great job of mixing human stories with the cold hard facts. Great examples of simple steps (like purple piped recycled water for gardening/outdoor use) as a means of decreasing our need to acquire and purify all the water...more
Darren Hawkins
A really interesting overview of water problems in a few different places around the globe. Unlike many books on important current issues, this one understands and incorporates big-picture political affairs, science, and down-to-earth details of the effects on people's lives. Water is likely to be the source of many 21st-century conflicts and this book provides a thoughtful introduction to many of the issues. I wish it included another chapter or two on developing countries, including at least o...more
I will never leave the faucet on when I brush my teeth again. I realized I do it, because I feel rich, when the water is running and I can waste water, but after this book I will stop!
I learned a lot about water. He has some fun facts that get you thinking. I felt like he was prophetic in a lot of ways. I believe the golden days of water will soon end. That our children will not know the ease and low price that we do today.

One quote I liked is the one that bottled water will not save you. I thi...more
John Scharf
What an excellent book... who knew water is so political and controversial? After reading this book, you'll never look at or think about water the same way again.

Charles Fishman creatively explains water from several perspectives (historical, necessity, economic, political, marketing, scientific and entertainment) and its impact on numerous locations such as Las Vegas, Atlanta, Austrailia, and Spain. He explores our changing relationship with water (again, depending upon where you live on the gl...more
Todd Martin
The first section of The Big Thirst contains more facts per square inch than any book I’ve read in a long time … and they are all about water. How much, how little, where it comes from, what’s in it, where it’s located, who has it, who doesn’t, why it’s important, what it does, as well as it’s physical, and chemical properties and its role in the universe. There are lists of facts, metaphors, analogies and comparisons … and every one of them is interesting.

Unfortunately, this burst from the star...more
Jenny Brown
This discussion of the challenges of managing water use, drought, and the impact of water scarcity on Third World cultures discusses many important issues. But it suffers from reading too much like a collection of magazine articles without a clear organizing principle connecting the chapters.

The author was also too trusting of corporate sources for my tastes--at times the chapters turned into advertisements for IBM and GE and his belief that "market forces" can solve the problems of water distr...more
Deb Rudnick
This is a book that should be required reading for, well, everyone, because we are all deeply dependent on and responsible for its subject. Fishman does a wonderful job connecting us with the enormous range of issues that supply water supply, water scarcity, water quality, and even our psychological and emotional connections to fresh water. This book is not a treatise on any of these subjects, nor a technical review- as he point s out, there are many books that cover many of the technical and po...more
One of my office mates came back from Spring Break and told me that this was a book that I had to read. He gave me a summary and told me it was all about one of my favorite subjects, water. I am an environmental engineer / water resources engineer. Water is my career and is now what I am teaching about to the next generation. Would this book enthrall a lady of water like me? The answer is yes. I was fascinated by The Big Thirst, and what is even better, it was written in such a way that you don...more
Ankur Jayakar
An awesome work by Mr Charles Fishman. This book doesn't preach you to fix that leaking tap in your house or doesn't blame governments and civic bodies for not doing what they are supposed to do. It just awakens your conscience towards the most precious but at the same time most neglected thing in our lives - Water itself. A fabulous research though the author avoids going into too much details about figures and dates and costs but conveys his point beautifully. And most importantly, Fishman con...more
I picked this up after hearing that Charles Fishman will be giving a speech at the college where I work, and I'm awfully glad I did. The first chapter of this book is utterly captivating; Fishman outlines our complicated relationship to water with eloquence and playfulness, and draws attention to the fact that while water is central to life on this planet, it's a resource that we take for granted. The rest of the book is a tour-de-force of investigative journalism. Fishman is a gifted writer, ma...more
This is a book that is pretty easy to read, even fun, and tackles the mundane detail of water. I loved it. There is a good variety among the chapters, with one focusing on reclaimed water in rural Australia, and another on Las Vegas. In a topic area where I've read a lot of books already this one showed lots of new insight.
I am a non-fiction fan and like to find unique stories about everyday things. The Big Thirst quenched that desire. Water is not completely under the radar, but it is certainly taken for granted compared to other commodities. Fishman does a great job of taking a world view of the problem/issues by collecting stories from a number of different countries. I found the discussion about the daily quest for water in India to be particularly intriguing.

The book does not paint a doomsday scenario, but i...more
Lots of provocative ideas and solutions. Things we haven't really thought about. Gives you a different way of understanding the problem we are facing with water. I was surprised to realize that the east coast of the US is affected the way it is.
Frits Haverkamp
Great book. Really helped me get a big picture view through detailed context oriented reporting on the state of water. Fishman argues that because we take water for granted we have refused to acknowledge just how scarey our dependence on water really is and how outdated our relationship with water truly is. The time for taking water for granted is over. Fishman lifts Las Vegas, long believed by me to one of the sickest places on the planet (a view that has not changed) as the example of how we n...more
I imagined this book would be a dire plea to save water, a polemic call to action. I went into it expecting to be exhausted with cynicism and the weight of yet another cause to fight for but this turned out to not be the case. Fishman eloquently writes about our complex and often intimate relationship to water and how communities around the world react to the excess or scarcity of their water.

As some of the national reviews have noted, this book has affected the way I think about the most basic...more
David Bruns
The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mysteries & Madness Shaping the New Era of Water is a book about our relationship to water. I use the term "relationship" carefully - water is political, historical, economic, spiritual and medicinal. It is a substance that we ignore while it runs from the tap or on our lawns, but will pay 100x the value for in a plastic bottle.

This is not an environmental screed against water wasters or a technocrats view of a resource, it is a long essay about an under-apprecia...more
Paul Mullen
Though Charles Fishman argues that this is not a polemic against modern habits of water usage, you can't come away from it without a sense of obligation. For my part, I hope to find a way to have a day-by-day display of water usage in my home (the monthly water bill is not timely enough to change behavior). The second-to-last chapter on water economics is the best of the group and is really worth everyone's time.

To be fair, Fishman tries to write a book about our relationship with water (like o...more
Picked up this book at the aquarium in Atlanta. Although I enjoyed it, towards the end it started to lose my interest. The one main thing I loved about this book was that it made me think about my water usage personally and also how ridiculous our water system is currently. Having pristine water used to water lawns, when waste water would be a better use is a topic this book really brought to light for me. Also, I think this book will actually save me a lot of money in the long run, as I will ne...more
This book will change your perception of the "everyday" substance of water, and make you think about how you use it, and take it for granted if you have an unlimited supply at your disposal. You will also think of the millions of people who don't have water, and what they do to scrape together a supply that barely covers basic needs. Lastly, for those who buy bottled water - you will think differently about that, too. I'm glad that I read this book; I recommend it to all, especially those who ar...more
Really enjoyed. Very interesting subject and well written. i recommend it.
Lindsay Luke
This is a fascinating book about drinking water. The author uses Las Vegas, Toowoomba Australia, and India as the most prominent examples of water use. The story of how Las Vegas has been able to minimize it'd water use while still having all the golf courses, pools, and fountains on the Strip is very interesting, especially in light of the recently proposed water restrictions in California. I also had no idea that water shortage in Australia was so severe or that the availability of water in In...more
This book made me aware of my belief in 'water mythology', that I didn't really understand where my drinking water originated, or implications of misbelief and bad understandings. Without being a a whiny environmentalist, the author promotes sound reasons for environmentally wise water policies around the world, especially at local and regional levels.

It was a great read. I was entertained, educated, and left with tools I can use to become a more intelligent water consumer.
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Mandatory reading for EVERYONE 1 12 May 12, 2011 05:38PM  
  • With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change
  • Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water
  • The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century
  • Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines
  • Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It
  • Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
  • Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter
  • Plastic: A Toxic Love Story
  • The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One
  • Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It
  • Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
  • Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth
  • Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
  • The Weather of the Future
  • World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
  • The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters
  • Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans
  • Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them
As a reporter, Charles Fishman has tried to get inside organizations, both familiar and secret, and explain how they work.
In the course of reporting about water to write The Big Thirst, Fishman has stood at the bottom of a half-million-gallon sewage tank, sampled water directly from the springs in San Pellegrino, Italy, and Poland Spring, Maine, and carried water on his head for 3 km with a group...more
More about Charles Fishman...
The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works - and How It's Transforming the American Economy Charles Fishman'sThe Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water [Hardcover]2011 Has Wal-Mart Found Its Soul?: A New Introduction to the National Bestseller The Wal-Mart EffectA Penguin eSpecial As the Sun Goes Down in Fire To the End of Time

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