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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,062 Ratings  ·  197 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 found. Unlike most precious resources, water cannot be used ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Free Press (first published April 12th 2010)
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Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-politics
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
I found The Big Thirst to be a fascinating exploration of all things water. It was certainly an eye opener. As other reviewers have attested to, there are so many nuggets and ideas about the issue of water—many which, we, collectively regard with a blind eye—that Charles Fishman investigates and explores. This book will lead the readers to think about the ways in which they use or misuse water. (I know I am guilty of not using water as efficiently as I could). In short—if you’ll pardon the pun—T ...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
Munthir Mahir
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Our relationship with water is both visible and invisible. Behind the everyday misty shroud lies a complex web of politics, economics and psychology. Our relationship with water is easy and uneasy at the same time, we take it for granted and treat it as granted yet in the same time we commoditize it and pay exuberant amounts of money for it. We are willing to mismanage it yet unforgiving when authorities mismanage it. The world is not about to run out of water it has always been there and will a ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Wai-kit Ng
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that make you do a double-take. In this case, on something we all know very well. It's water. But, I never knew that although we think of consuming water like we consume other earth's natural resources, like fuel, it is not true. Water is never consumed. In fact, no new water is created. The fresh water that falls down from the sky is billions of years old. Probably as old as the earth. So, you can't actually waste water, as in destroy it. Conversely, you can't really ...more
Jun 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2011
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
Steele Dimmock
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mary Frances
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book fascinating and dismaying. It gave me a much better understanding of the complexities of water management in a changing environment and a rapidly-growing world.And it was full of surprises. Who knew Las Vagas was a cutting edge example of effective water management and conservation? Who knew that the creation of water to clean microchips was such a technological challenge and wonder? Well, obviously people did, but not me, as it is not my area of expertise. But I am so glad I r ...more
Jim Duncan
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Cary Hillebrand
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ben Franklin's quote "When the well runs dry we learn the value of water" is as apt today, perhaps even more so then it was when Ben wrote it in the eighteenth century. Most people who are not professionally involved with the water and wastewater industry (and perhaps too many of us who are) tend to take this indispensible resource for granted. Charles Fishman, an investigative reporter brilliantly covers the story of water from all angles in a way that after reading his book, both the layperson ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am on a mission to read about areas for which I am a neophyte in an effort to expand my information arc. This was a great read for this purpose. Lots of information and even suggestions on how to address the water issue. This is an exceptional book on water. Well done Mr. Fishman. Well done.
Stephen Heiner
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
I first came across Charles Fishman in 2007 when he penned an article in Fast Company explaining the absurdities behind the phenomenon of Fiji Water, and before you say you would never read a 330 page book about water, give this article a read and see if he doesn't do to you what he did to me: take an every day object and teach you more about it than you can possibly know, all while keeping you engaged and hungry for more.

I would go on to read Fishman's "T
Jenny Reeverts
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent accessible and well-researched book about germane water issues all over the world! Charles Fishman also offers valuable solutions to the water problems discussed.
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply put, this book is about humans' relationship with water. The content was presented in an engaging yet informative way. I was surprised how much I enjoyed and learned from this book.
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman provides an excellent and accurate representation of the importance of water in our daily lives through an array of shocking facts. Not only does he explain in detail the real problems we should be concerned about for water, but he also makes some valid points that people often forget. A few facts that stood out to me the most included a sad statistic about how 40% of all people in the world don't have access to good quality water, ultra-pure water is actually c ...more
Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read this book while the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan was developing made Fishman’s arguments all the more poignant. He starts this book discussing the interesting ways in which the permanent availability of water for the last century has made us not even ignorant of our water systems but made us ignore them altogether. Fishman goes on to use several case studies to highlight how our lack of forward thinking has lead us to be so wasteful of our water supply while climate c ...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
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, one-book
I read this as part of my community's One Book project, that encourages the entire community to read a single book then talk about it in various forums put on by the city. This particular selection couldn't be more timely or important to us and our state.

Fishman (heh) has written an excellent book on the importance of water, and, more importantly, our relationship to it. My (agriculture) degree had a lot of discussion of water usage, especially in a state where our water has become so perilous i
Deb Rudnick
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ankur Jayakar
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
John Scharf
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
David Buccola
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In its descriptive role, the book is a fantastic exploration of our complex relationship with water. The author makes a really strong case that our days of ignoring water and taking it for granted are over. But he also stresses this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Its the prescriptive side of the book that falls apart. The author is apparently unfamiliar with the last thirty years of developments in economics advocates a price system for water. The magic of the market will smartly and efficientl
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Mandatory reading for EVERYONE 1 13 May 12, 2011 05:38PM  
  • Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind
  • The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century
  • Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It
  • Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water
  • Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis
  • Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
  • With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change
  • The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat
  • Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
  • Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines
  • Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oce ans
  • The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet
  • Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion
  • Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment
  • Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth
  • Plastic: A Toxic Love Story
  • The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One
  • The God Species
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 about Charles Fishman...

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