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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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  823 ratings  ·  108 reviews
In this groundbreaking book, veteran science correspondent Fred Pearce travels to more than thirty countries to examine the current state of crucial water sources. Deftly weaving together the complicated scientific, economic, and historic dimensions of the world water crisis, he provides our most complete portrait yet of this growing danger and its ramifications for us all ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 15th 2007 by Beacon Press (first published March 1st 2006)
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Mar 19, 2015 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
May 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Julie Laporte
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Samuel Peck
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative read about water - the shortage of it, the mismanagement of it, some of the solutions attempting to salvage the situation - that at times comes across as depressing.

The author undoubtedly is knowledgeable, but the book could have been better edited - it reads like an unrelenting barrage of disparate journalistic articles, instead of a more coherent thread reflecting a bigger picture.

Despite the flaws, this is still worth a read for anyone interested in obtaining a quick scan
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 rated it really liked it
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.
Peter Corrigan
Jan 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a nice survey of the 'state of the planet's waters', written back 2006. Which is just far enough back to be relevant but provides some interesting checks on the many predictions (mainly of doom and gloom) that are made. Not saying much of it is not warranted. Water is of course the most essential material on earth and it is under pressure in myriad ways as well-documented by Fred Pearce, an English journalist/science writer. He did a fair amount of research for this and traveled widely ...more
Jeddie Marie
Jul 31, 2020 added it
Shelves: dnf-d
read chapters 1, 3, 8, 12, 21, 22, 23, and 24 for my geology course. it was bleak and depressing. sad yeehaw.
Jonathan Biddle
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
​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 drou ...more
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mark Valentine
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pearce has updated his book of the same title but here he gives it a new subtitle (the 2007 version is subtitled, "Water--The Defining Crisis of the 21st Century"). Pearce's book needs to sit on the same shelf as the incredible book by Dahr Jamail, "The End of Ice" (2019); they share the message only on different avenues.

In reading Pearce, I learned of some of the catastrophes we have unleashed. For example, I had not known before that in China, in 1938 when the Japanese Army was invading China
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 were extremely ...more
Brandon Pytel
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pearce travels around the world, exploring country's major rivers and the destruction that mankind has brought them. He gives us the twentieth century soltuions to twenty-first century problems, in the engineering feats lauded over in the WPA era and the consequences they’re having today to address population control and ecosystem damage.

These structures are now prone to even more, with increased floods, changing weather patterns and the population booms. Many of these structures, whether cana
Martin Empson
Apr 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Douglas Gorney
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
A major crisis is not building, but well on its way. It will define the 21st century, as water is of the utmost importance for us all.

The book provides the details of many spots on Earth, about the problems and the solutions found to water scarcity and abundance. It should be part of every country's education curriculum.

Though, buy the newest 2018 edition if you can, not the 2006 edition I'm reading, as new developments inevitably shed a new light.
May 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.

Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One thing struck when reading this book: the Water Framework Directive requires European countries to bring their rivers to good quality status. However, European citizens see nothing wrong about demanding increased quantities of cheap cotton and food from countries like China, India and Uzbekistan where the production of this cotton and food is destroying local water supplies.
Christopher Mims
Apr 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Science journalism at its very best; devastating in its implications.
May 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
There are absolutely no sources cited!! How can this be credible in the least? It's full of statistics that aren't referenced. ...more
Ruben Baetens
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazingly documented worldwide overview of men-made hydrological problems, and how to solve them.
Shabbeer Hassan
An exceedingly scary book, much more than what King or Lovecraft or Trump can imagine/do! And the reason why I call it scary is that its happening all around us and the bleak future we have ahead of us. Freshwater, one of the most precious resources we have, had been once treasured dearly and wisely used. But as the pace of industrialisation quickened and the population density rose, short-term gains overtook the long-term ones.

And with them came - DAMS!

Dams were once called the temples of the
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first introduction to Water - inspired by my NYE visit to a wetland near Shangrila, Yunnan and the realization that I knew nothing of wetlands or environmental issues in general. I cried and laughed and rolled over a few times reading this -- it was pure joy/sorrow following the story of water across major rivers, aquifers, wetlands, manmade canals, dams, boreholes of this world... (which also gave much insight into rise and fall of civilizations and the extent of importance of agric ...more
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Like many other reviewers I was hit pretty hard by the social issues highlighted in this book. We've seen time-lapse images where rivers and lakes are evaporating away, or where the sea level shifts, and we all know that humans are causing these changes, but in a weird way I always assumed it was simply our effect on the atmosphere (cars, industrialisation, etc). I was left feeling uneasy when every chapter of this book gave some horrible example of greed or ignorance when it comes to water. The ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is the best. If you only read one book on the water crisis, this should be the one. This is a comprehensive look at how water shortages impact people all over the world and how they have dealt with it in the twenty-first century. Pearce did an amazing job researching and performing case studies in order to be able to put this book together. I love the way that it is organized and broken down into sections. His writing style is both captivating and interesting. Love it.
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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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