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

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  371 ratings  ·  63 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 January 1st 2006)
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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
Julie Laporte
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
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
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
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...more
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.
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.
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...
There are absolutely no sources cited!! How can this be credible in the least? It's full of statistics that aren't referenced.
Christopher Mims
Science journalism at its very best; devastating in its implications.
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...more
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
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...more
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
Jonathan Biddle
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...more
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
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
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
Brian Ford
Between 3 and 4, but this is another vote against grade inflation.
This was my first meaningful foray into global water management issues and I found the breadth and variety of its coverage utterly fascinating and gripping. It isn't an academic treatise so there are some phrasings and conclusions that, technically, one would like to see proven or logically expressed more precisely. Given its geographical purview, I'd also have liked maps for each of the systems/areas covered (how much could a dozen more black/white drawings cost?!), but I appreciated the book i...more
Catherine Austen
I loved this book. It's chock full of fascinating information about all aspects of water exploitation around the globe. Very well written and engrossing - some of the chapters will stay with me for a long time, as images of shrinking seas and receding deltas, golf course sprinklers and cotton plantations in the desert. I live in Quebec, land of a million lakes and rivers, and the global water crisis doesn't always hit home for me - but this book made it real. Scary (but not alarmist), with a sma...more
This hydrological manifesto is amazing. Very informative and succinct, this book is a call-to-action to all of us, no matter where we live, how rich or poor we are. As we enter the era of increasing water crises, this book offers some very simple solutions to some very serious problems. I can't say that I'm left feeling hopeful after reading it, because I understand that political will to do the sensible thing is rarely there, but maybe we wake up and do the right thing before it is too late.
A m...more
I learned a great deal from this book about the issues of water resources across the planet. It is hard to fathom that many people struggle to find safe water every day when I have it in abundance here in Mobile, AL. But in many parts of the world water is scarce, and getting more so. It is also a contributing factor to the turmoil in the Middle East and Africa. This is a good book, not only to learn about the environment, but to learn how environmental issues impact us politically and socially...more
A 'must read' for anyone interested in the natural world. Wish that updates to some of the projects discussed in this book were more easily available than a sometimes futile Google search.
When the Rivers Run Dry is a fascinating study of man’s struggle to reign supreme over the world’s water supply by draining aquifers and damming and diverting it to run uphill against gravity, towards corporate money and how governments and corporations through these actions have set into motion a negative chain of events with dire long term consequences to man and society.
May 22, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: UMW
This is a stunning book: very well researched, very readable, and very comprehensive.
Unless we find new ways of dealing with this situation, there could be many more floods and
periods of drought in our future. The Southeast US is one of the threatened areas: this is not only a global issue, but also a local one. I give this book my highest recommendation.

Pam Rasmussen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jon Mountjoy
An awesome book that everyone should read. An eye opener for me really. I never thought about water at all - where it comes from, the politics surrounding it, aquafers, the downsides to dams, hydropolitics, impending doom and gloom :-) It's a book about one of the great natural resources of earth, one that's mostly taken for granted.
Oy. I only got halfway through this one. Though the book is very concisely written, especially for such a broad and deep topic, it put me to sleep everytime I picked it up. Too bad, really, because this is a subject I'm deeply interested in. It just feel very formulaic and repetitive. I may take another stab at a later date.
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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
More about Fred Pearce...
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change The Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet's Surprising Future Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth

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