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Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind
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Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  148 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Elixir spans five millennia, from ancient Mesopotamia to the parched present of the Sun Belt. As Brian Fagan shows, every human society has been shaped by its relationship to our most essential resource. Fagan's sweeping narrative moves across the world, from ancient Greece and Rome, whose mighty aqueducts still supply modern cities, to China, where emperors marshaled armi ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Bloomsbury Press (first published June 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Chris
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History lovers and water lovers, and everyone
Shelves: science, history-misc
I quite honestly didn’t think I would enjoy this book quite as much as I did. This was really fascinating, so fascinating that it was totally absorbing. While accessible to the common reader, Fagan’s book is one that students could use, so it can, at times, be technical. Still fascinating. Though, a general knowledge of world history would be helpful.
But honestly, I didn’t think reading about water management would so engrossing. Okay, I should have known better, after all I enjoyed the book ab
...more
Dwain
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I always enjoy reading (or listening) to something new, and "Elixir" was definitely something I hadn't read about before. Fagan, however, managed to tire even me with an incredible amount of detail about historical water management systems. I gave "Elixir" 2 stars because the book is very informative and there were sections that I found fascinating.

I enjoy a lot of things, but I got bored with very detailed descriptions of sluices, catchments, qanats, etc. Fagan doesn't even define many of these
...more
Jeff
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Audiobook. Very interesting book about water and how civilization centered on water and much of the power resided in who controlled water.
Andrew Updegrove
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in anthropology, nature, and/or science
Recommended to Andrew by: Review
Brian Fagan is an astonishingly prolific producer, for a non-fiction writer, having produced more than three dozen, research-basee books (at the rate of more than one a year!)focusing on the areas of archaeology, anthropology and the impact of climate change over the millenia on humanity. I've read at least a half a dozen of them, and he continues to pump them out faster than I've been knocking them off.

That's rather remarkable, given the fact that they are all intensively detailed, although so
...more
Dennis Hidalgo
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is not your traditional World History, or even your common environmental history book. It does not serves as a beginner history book either. The reader may benefit more with a broad context of world history since Fagan assumes the reader knows the periods of time, the places, and many of the people to whom he refers in his book.

He proves that through the study of water usage we can understand human societies both in comprehensive and detailed w
...more
Lianne Burwell
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you've read some of Mr Fagan's previous books, such as The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, this book covers a lot of familiar ground, just using water and it's uses to cover human history and changes in civilization. From the earliest attempts at simple irrigation to the Roman aqueducts, to industrial age technology, with warnings about the current attitude that water is in infinite resource and the resulting overuse.

The writing is clear and concise, and the book has just the r
...more
David
Brian Fagan’s Elixir: A Human History of Water is a compelling history of mankind’s relationship to water. This is, however, to miss the real purpose of the history. The purpose of this history of water, or the archaeology of water, is to demonstrate the ways in which overuse, or lack of living in balance with nature may and can lead to parlous results. In some, not a few, cases to the destruction/death of a civilization, occasionally civilizations. To be sure the history is completely accurate ...more
Ian Plenderleith
What it says on the bottle – an accessible account of how various past civilisations engineered water sources to irrigate their crops, flush away their shit, supply themselves with drink and, when supplies were abundant enough, prettify their gardens and public spaces. Being mankind, though, we’re on the way to exhausting our natural supplies through illogical idiocy like too many golf courses, gardens and swimming pools in places like California, Phoenix, Texas and Arizona, resulting in a chron ...more
Gregg Sapp
As Brian Fagan demonstrates in Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind , reliable access to water resources has been a requisite of human civilization from their origins. Fagan proposes that there are three historic eras of humanity’s relationship to water. Until the Industrial revolution, owing to its scarcity and its unpredictability, water was treated as a divine gift and thus was central to many rituals and belief systems. With technology, water came to be viewed as a commodity, which could ...more
cynthia Clark
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dеnnis
True name should've been History of Plumbing and Irrigation. Of which 2/3 of the book is dedicated to ancient civilizations. Too conversationalist for a thesis, but too detailed, specific and wearisome for a general audience non-fiction. The book is an unlucky cross between the two genres. Thus they only readership cohort for this book is graduate students and some geeks of the topic.

***
Ah, found a book that resembles this one: www.goodreads.com/book/show/18497345-...
Tellingly, it has virtually
...more
Annm
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent exposition of the historyof water managment by humans and is quite readable. If the author had stopped there, I would have given it a five. But in the last chapter, he provides a supposed solution to amn's water woes that is ludicrous. I am ot at all opposed to water conservation measures - I've lived in Southern California and I wish some areas of the East Cot were better about employing similar measures. But to go back to subsistence management of water, as he suggests, wo ...more
Richard
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: project-2014


We have a history regarding water: When we dance with nature, we live and when we don't, we don't…it's that simple. After reading this book, in my reality, water wars are no longer an unlikely fantasy. I fear for the futures of Los Angeles, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Everyone needs to read this book and then examine their impact regarding the use of this planetary resource…or maybe I'm just a-whistn' in the wind…

Kate
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: skimmed
I am not mechanically inclined enough to absorb the rich detail about all the ways people have moved and rendered water potable over the millenia. Also found that I did not agree with the point of letting the local collective wisdom decide how best to manage the water since not all ancient local collective wisdom turns out to be wise. But some of the ancients really did have it going on, and this book provides some great examples.
Eric
Aug 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of solid information here about water, mostly from a historical standpoint. However, I had the feeling the author was paying attention to water's importance to the point of worship. And this seems a bit odd for someone who ended up using Julian Simon as a citation for how human ingenuity will likely come through again even as we are profligate in our water habits. I liked the prominence given to gravity as inextricably tied to the history of water.
Rock
Apr 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't. Really, don't. Unless you have to, don't. My personality disorders are squabbling about which one caused me to finish this torture. I like microhistories, but ELIXIR reads much more like a textbook, with many, many dates & relating every measurement in both English and metric terms. Read ot listen to something else.
Mallory
Feb 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up because I saw it on some best sellers lists and heard good things... I didn't even finish the first chapter! I thought it was a great concept for a book, but it read more like a text book or an encylopedia than something I would expect to find on best sellers lists. Good information - terrible writing style.
Murray
Jan 10, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this, and it had interesting stuff in, but I just couldn't get into it. Maybe a bit repetitive and maybe too much detail. He obviously really knows his stuff though, Try the first and last chapters.
Chariss Walker
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another great resource on water. The author gives much detail on ancient societies to present day and the relationship these societies had with water. Fagan urges the reader to return to a time of respect and reverence for this miraculous resource.
Kaesa
This book was -- considering its subject matter -- oddly dry in places. But it did have a lot of genuinely fascinating discussions of various water technologies and the cultural significance of water in different environments.
Matthew
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
review in process...
James
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Long and tedious. I fell asleep a few times while reading it. I learned a few things about quanats and other unusual water technology.
Michael
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just plain interesting. I love it when a book tells me how stuff works - or doesn't. Naturally there is a warning involved but it is never preachy.
Katie
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good so far.
Vanessa
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening...and sobering!
Mignon De Klerk
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of many interesting points made by this book: There is not enough water on the planet for drinking and irrigating to support 7 billion people. Food for thought.
Carrie
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


While I found the topic, and therefore the book, very interesting, the book is technical and reads like a textbook on the subject.
Karl
Dec 29, 2013 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I will try this book again in print, but the book's structure and the narrator's plummy voice combined to make it impossible for me to follow while driving.
PabloHabla
Know more about water that I will ever use.
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Brian Murray Fagan (born 1 August 1936) is a prolific author of popular archaeology books and a professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Fagan was born in England where he received his childhood education at Rugby School. He attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied archaeology and anthropology (BA 1959, MA 1962, PhD 1965). ...more
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