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When the Rivers Run Dry: Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century
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When the Rivers Run Dry: Water--The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  600 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Throughout history, rivers have been our foremost source of fresh water both for agriculture and for individual consumption, but now economists say that by 2025 water scarcity will cut global food production by more than the current U.S. grain harvest. In this groundbreaking book, veteran science correspondent Fred Pearce focuses on the dire state of the world's rivers to ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 9th 2006 by Beacon Press (first published March 1st 2006)
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Mar 23, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: rice farmers, dam-builders, sunbathers at the Salton Sea
Aral Sea boat

The Dead Sea receding

The Salton Sea

This is another one of those depressing books that catalogs in grim detail just how badly humans are screwing up the environment, on a cataclysmic scale, how greed, desperation, and short-sightedness have destroyed entire ecosystems, devastated nations, and displaced millions, and how even though we have the scientific and technological know-how to do better, we're not going to, because short-term thinking always wins.

Oh, the author ends with an optimistic chapter, as all these books do, detaili
this is my University's common reading program book for this year. So, now that I've finished it, I have to come up with a way to make it enticing and relevent to a bunch of freshmen (last year's group didn't like Mountains Beyond Mountains, which I loved). The premise of this book is great and it certainly stimulated all of my co-workers also reading the book to think about the issue of water use on both a personal and global level. However, it is extremely repetitive and could easily be signif ...more
Feb 25, 2008 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book begins with amazing facts, such as: It takes between 250 and 650 gallons of water to make one bag of rice. While one person may drink only 250 gallons (or one ton) of water annually, the water used to cloth and provide food for them annually would fill half an Olympic-size swimming pool (or between 1,500 and 2,000 tons). I've just begun, but am hooked. What if the nutrition labels on food bags listed all the hidden amounts of energy and water it took to create the end food product? (And ...more
Jun 15, 2010 Eliza rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geo-med-env
What I enjoyed about this book was that it was written as a series of case studies around the world that each tackled a different set of water-related issues. Also, it was written by a journalist which made it highly readable and entertaining, while still maintaining a fairly academic feel. Also, he personally travelled & interviewed most of the people he discusses, which makes his stories more personal & compelling. His thoughts on the Aral Sea & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict wer ...more
Julie Laporte
Feb 26, 2010 Julie Laporte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is EXCELLENT. If you only read one book about our water crisis, this is the one! And if you love it like I did, I'd recommend following it up with Water Follies, which is also about rivers, but focuses on a few in the US only...but in more detail. This book is more of an overview of the globe. It's VERY easy to read...if I remember correctly, it's written by a journalist who has chronicled river news for decades, given his inherent interest. The last parts of the book really touch on a ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A lukewarm 'ok/like' because the subject matter is so incredibly important and it hearkens back to my geology days. It's a subject I like to read about.
But, given that the subject matter is so numbers-driven, why no graphs and charts to help better visualize the issues. Also, no photos. Why? Also, no introduction to basic hydrology and aquifers (with diagrams). The last section was pretty good (but no images or resources links to get more information). A decent book that could have been present
Feb 03, 2009 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives some dire warnings about mismanagement of our world's rivers - the damming of rivers and pumping of aquifers causes more destruction by floods and drought (which is not what the dam-builders of the world would tell you). Not an uplifting book, but a very good book for those who agree that water is a major resource to be fought over in the 21st century.
May 18, 2011 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very readable and packed with fascinating information. But DEPRESSING. The world's fresh water situation is beyond hopeless. And, it going to get worse. Something to look forward to.

The only problem with this book is the complete lack of citations, which is puzzling.
May 18, 2013 Heather rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There are absolutely no sources cited!! How can this be credible in the least? It's full of statistics that aren't referenced.
Dec 23, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
sobering, yet reassuring look at the world's water situation... worth a read if you care about nature, ecology, or the continuation of the human species...
Christopher Mims
Science journalism at its very best; devastating in its implications.
Nov 05, 2016 Allie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting vignette style book on the water crisis around the world -- and what can be done to fix the damage we've already wrought.
Jonathan Biddle
Jan 18, 2012 Jonathan Biddle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, 2012
In When the Rivers Run Dry, Fred Pearce takes us on a journey across the world exploring the great sources of water and how humans have interacted with them down through history. Pearce uses stories of his travels to provide an effective structure for the book and push the reader through what would be boring statistics by themselves. Three-fourths of the book focuses on the problems while the remaining fourth describes and suggests a few possible solutions.

* Pearce's passion ab
Jun 03, 2015 Ray rated it it was amazing
Written in 2006, Fred Pearces's book "When the Rivers Run Dry", seems somewhat prophetic to those of us living in the Southwest United States. The Colorado River, the lifeblood of the Southwest, is severely overused, and upstream demands means it no longer flows to the sea. With reduced river flows and diminished snow pack in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada mountains, water supplies in the Southwestern states are severely stretched. As 2015 news accounts describe, California has been in a drought ...more
Carmen Thong
3 stars leaning towards 2.

Feels more like a collection of journalistic pieces than a coherent book. I like the clear-cut structure (very essay-argument), but that falls a little flat as it feels less like a thesis defence than a rambling exploration. Not enough analysis and big picture as it jumps from location to location sketching the bare basics of each case. And was honestly so annoyed with the big deal that the author makes about him carrying water with the Indian women, trying to be all B
Eugene Lee
Sep 30, 2016 Eugene Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fresh water. Our most precious resource. A looming crisis no one is talking about. Fred Pearce encapsulates the politics of water, the usage, the wastage succinctly within these 368 pages. Required reading.
Oct 19, 2014 Phyllis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book!
We can live without oil, but we can’t live without water.
Fred Pearce, author of Rivers Run Dry, has traveled and studied water in 30 countries and has been writing about water issues for over 20 years. His analysis of how we are committing what is termed hydraulic suicide with our water footprint is terrifying and calls all of us to action. It is a compelling book documenting the destruction of this resource as well as highlighting efforts being done to reclaim fresh water.

The outlook
The author, Fred Pearce, is a journalist who has been traveling around the world and writing about water issues for over twenty years. It definitely shows in the style of this book. In 300+ pages, he takes you on a whirlwind tour around the globe to illustrate the dire situation that the global water supply is in. The case studies that Pearce describes show very vividly how fragile our supply to water is and how devastating our failure to protect it can be. THe chapters are short and centered ar ...more
Leigh Glenn
Oct 08, 2015 Leigh Glenn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An instructor of "Literature and the Environment" at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., had included one of Fred Pearce's writings about "virtual water." That was intriguing at the time (2006), but I've only recently read When the Rivers Run Dry and find it to be still relevant, if not moreso. Pearce has done a lot of research and writes engagingly. I walk away from the book having a sense of hope -- so long as we humans have the will to change, to put aside our short-term interests in favor ...more
Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.

When the Rivers Run Dry sets out a case for water being as large and urgent an environmental challenge as climate change. Today, the world grows twice as much food as it did a generation ago, but it uses three times as much water. As a result, many of the waterways, lakes and rivers that we used to take for granted
Wow. Great book full of case studies. Eye opening. Informs a more enlightened perspective toward the value of water, its capture and smart use, politics and societal pressures, rivers, dams and water systems around the world.

My big takeaway is the hubris of humanity. It makes sense how we've gotten to this point of trying to master water over a series of logical small steps. But with all these examples of big ideas that turned out to be wrong, have huge unintended consequences and hurt many peop
Mar 22, 2010 Willowwind rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fine and very readable journalistic treatment of water use and abuse worldwide. Includes good descriptions of ancient and modern technologies and their ecological results. The writer makes it clear that complex societies. both ancient agricultural and modern industrial, are based on abundant use of water. And nothing can bring a complex society down faster than its lack. If you care for the future of your children and grandchildren and the other inhabitants of the earth as well this should be ...more
Apr 04, 2016 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderful book that captured my empathy, my awe and my curiosity. Pearce is a life-long journalist and thus his book is written as a story moreso than a scientific manuscript.

There is true virtue in this. Fred Pearce traveled the world for nearly 30 years to write this book. The secondhand accounts of the people he met, the places he saw and the story that binds it together really captivated me in a way science couldn't.

This is documentary-style with no citations. Pearce did this as
I listened to the audio version of the book, so I didn't see any references for the writing. It was an interesting book dealing with water - how it is used, what has happened to lakes in the world today. There were times when the book seemed repetitive (which happens often with non-fiction social science books). I am unsure if some of my bias against the book is from the fact that I disagreed with some of his points. Part of this book deals with agriculture (duh, it is about water) and I felt th ...more
Martin Empson
This isn't a cheerful book. Pearce offers us a glimpse of a future were millions of people suffer from drought and water shortages. But he does show how a different approach could solve many problems. He challenges the idea of big engineering problems as the solution, and shows how localised projects across the world could solve many of the problems associated with wate - in this sense the book is a hopeful one that does also offer a glimpse of a much better society - where human society is much ...more
Nov 27, 2012 Madi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm sure you saw the two stars and thought, "How could she!?". I can practically here the gasps, people. And what I have to say is this: This is not my niche. The only reason I read this was to become informed and educated, and now I am. But I can't say it was pleasurable. I would have rather gone to the dentist for three root canals over reading this book. Seriously. I was overwhelmed with people, places, numbers, techniques, and vocabulary. It's a lot to handle. For me, it wasn't presented in ...more
Catti-brie Reeves
This book is about how all our rivers and lakes are slowly drying up. We use more water than than nature can put back, and for very inconvenient things. THis book explores this issue very well by showing startling statistics of the amount of water we are actually using and wasting. I feel very more informed on whats happening considering i didn't know very much about it or really anything about it in general. It puts a face on this issue to me a lot more knowing that we are wasting so much water ...more
Dec 19, 2007 Roger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In view of the drought in the southeast this book is a real eye opener. We are not alone and the problem is not getting any easier to solve. After reading this book I am beginning to think that we should not let the engineers get anywhere near our rivers or other water sources. Also, if we are going to 'help' less fortunate nations drill wells we should at least test the water before they use it. What has happened in India and other regions where the UN and private charities have helped drill we ...more
Jul 29, 2011 Camille rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A frightening look at just HOW MUCH we've screwed up this planet of ours. Each chapter looks at a certain type of water crisis, in several areas. To be honest, after a couple chapters, it becomes a monotonous stream of, "John Lockson at the So-and-So Bureau reported that the [Insert Great River Name] once had a flow of 100 million acre-feet, it is now reduced to a fifth of that." After the initial shock about the water situation, I didn't find it really interesting until the last third of the bo ...more
Douglas Gorney
Oct 24, 2014 Douglas Gorney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The next wars won't be about oil. They'll be about water. Doubt that? Read this book.

When the Rivers Run Dry is a litany of abuses to our planet's fresh water systems. If Fred Pearce ticks them off in stultifying succession, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee-style, it's not his fault: he's listing only some of the worst examples in making his point.

Add this to the tectonic shifts that humanity should make—away from a carbon-based, growth economy, for instance—but won't, until nature shifts us, the
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Fred Pearce is an English author and journalist based in London. He has been described as one of Britain's finest science writers and has reported on environment, popular science and development issues from 64 countries over the past 20 years. He specialises in global environmental issues, including water and climate change, and frequently takes heretic and counter-intuitive views - "a sceptic in ...more
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