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The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  6,753 ratings  ·  1,255 reviews
A master reporter’s landmark work of contemporary ecology.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, and they provide food, work, and weekend fun for tens of millions of Americans. Yet they are under threat as never before.

In a work of narrative reporting in the vein of Rachel Carson and Elizabeth Kolbert, prize-winning reporter Dan Egan delivers an eye-ope
Hardcover, 364 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by W. W. Norton Company
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Becky I agree. Egan's book covers the Great Lakes not only from a modern perspective but a historical perspective which will make it fascinating to students…moreI agree. Egan's book covers the Great Lakes not only from a modern perspective but a historical perspective which will make it fascinating to students.

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Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
For years my mother has refused to drink tap water claiming that zebra mussels have affected the taste of her water supply. Lake Michigan is part of the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater source in the world, and to me, the water still tastes crystal clear, until this past summer when it did not, and I reluctantly joined her in drinking filtered water. While zebra mussels are only one issue affecting the future of the Great Lakes today, the species is hardly the only living being or environment ...more
Egan separates a couple of salient facts by the length of a book, but I here eclipse the space between them:
The Great Lakes are the largest expanse of freshwater in the world.
The Great Lakes are in the midst of a slow-motion ecological catastrophe begun by opening to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic.
Freshwater is the world's most precious natural resource.
“The intuition is that a very large lake like this would be slow to respond somehow to climate change. But in fact we’re findi
If you care about the environment and sustainability, you must read this book. Even if you live thousands of miles away from these North American freshwater marvels, this book makes the case why we should all care about the impacts of invasive species, eutrophication, and the larger issues of climate change and access to fresh water.

An unparalleled work of reportage and science writing.
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, netgalley
Dan Egan's book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes was distressing to read. I know these lakes. I have lived near the Great Lakes for almost 50 years. I grew up along the Niagara River and have lived 40 years in Michigan--including seven years living near Lake Michigan, three years so close I heard the sound of the waves day and night.

I have seen the lakes die and become reborn and die again. I remember in the 1970s when the water at the base of Niagara Falls foamed with brown-yellow froth f
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes was one of those books that was fascinating and engaging well beyond my expectations. No one was more surprised than me that the history of the Great Lakes would be so captivating. But this was far more than a history book. It's also a bit of an horror story without the inevitability of doom. In an America that finds itself being governed by a President Trump, it isn't a stretch to understand that we have a long history of squandering one of our greatest ass ...more
Connie G
Dan Egan, a journalist who covers the Great Lakes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has written a fascinating book about the changes in their ecosystems. The Great Lakes (Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior) hold about 20% of the world's freshwater, a precious commodity.

For years, the Lakes and their connecting rivers were isolated from invasive species from the Atlantic Ocean by the tremendous force of the Niagara Falls which prevented organisms from moving upstream. The constr
Dave Schaafsma
“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”—Joni Mitchell

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s freshwater. They and area lakes and rivers have been repeatedly poisoned for the last couple hundred years, as if water supplies were somehow permanently resilient and endless. They are neither. When I swam in Lake Michigan in the seventies, for a couple summers I had to wade through a sludge of alewives spread across the shoreline. On the other hand, during that time you could never imag
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Egan traces the environmental decline of the Great Lakes from the pristine waters discovered by early European explorers to the despoiled waters of today. He skims over pollution and focuses on the problem of invasive species. He describes the dramatic changes as one invader after the other finds a home in the Lakes. While some species were able to go upstream in the St. Lawrence River and reach Lake Ontario, none could get past Niagara Falls to the other lakes, that is, until the Erie Canal ope ...more
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
This book was much more interesting than I anticipated. I live on Lake Erie, so when I saw the book at the library I picked it up.

The Great Lakes are not really lakes, they are inland fresh water seas. If you’ve ever stood on the shore of one, you know what I’m talking about. They are beautiful (yes, even Lake Erie, thanks to the clean water act.) I recently saw Lake Michigan, where it just about meets up with Lake Superior and I was absolutely stunned by the beauty.

The fresh water on t
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this for a book discussion group--and I'm glad I did. I thought I knew all about the problems facing the Great Lakes, and, after all, I've been living near one of the Lakes most of my life. However, after reading this book by journalist Dan Egan (published in 2017), I realized that there was A LOT I didn't know, and, moreover, the situation is far worse than I thought. The most important fact about the five Great Lakes is that they are beyond value, as they constitute 20% of the accessibl ...more
Tanja Berg
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of the planet Earth
Shelves: ecology, non-fiction
You pick up a book like this and on some level, you expect it to be dull. Dusty facts repeated. This book is something else entirely. It's an edge-of-your-seat nail-biting horror experience. There is shock after shock, at an unrelenting pace. It would have been a fun ride if it had been fiction, but this is reality and the facts slam-dunk you into the mud.

The story of the ecological collapses of the Great Lakes is devastating reading. The ale wives, the zebra mussels, the quagga mussels, the co
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book to satisfy a prompt: a book that scares or intimidates. And did it ever!!

For thousands of years, the pristine Great Lakes were separated from the Atlantic by Niagara Falls and the Mississippi River basin by a "sub-continental divide". Then man begin to circumvent these barriers. The Erie Canal, the first circumvention, started to allow invasive species into the system. The St Lawrence Seaway continued to allow the invasion. The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal routed Chicago's se
Judith E
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, audible
Dan Egan and his excellent book have reinforced the notion that once you've messed with Mother Nature's delicate balance there is a resulting crash like a falling tower of cards. He has spent a lifetime living and writing about the Great Lakes, and he has penned a very readable page turner about man's influence on this and other watersheds.

Beginning with the creation of the Erie Canal, Egan explains how the perfect ecosystem of the world's largest body of freshwater was changed and damaged. How
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent read on the Great Lakes and water in the USA. It is a call to heal our waters before it is too late.
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Until a year ago, I had lived all of my then-22 years of life along the same long, connected body of water. From the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland to the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, this watershed is intimately familiar to me, my lifelong companion.

And it’s dying.

I’ve heard this book compared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and while I’m wary to jump on board with such a comparison, I don’t think it’s an impossibility. Egan writes with a similar urgency and clarity of purpose. The t
Blaine DeSantis
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very good and highly detailed book that looks at the problems that invasive species have caused in our Great Lakes and what has been done to try and combat these problems. Some interesting issues include the fact that the Erie Canal caused the first invasive species problem, how Chicago destroyed a natural barrier to such species, how the Clean Water Act backfired and caused so many problems due to a loophole that allowed ballast to be dumped into the Lakes, how phosphorus killed Lake Erie and ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Okay, what do Asian carp, sea lamprey, homo sapiens, zebra mussels and climate change have in common? They are all destroying the mighty Great Lakes. Ouch! The five Great Lakes are one of the true wonders of the world, but we are continuously throwing wicked curve balls at this amazing water system. A system we all take for granted, much like our great oceans.
Dan Egan, a prize winning journalist, lays it all out here: the history, the canal systems, the invasive species, the various battles, wh
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Having lived in four of the eight states sharing a coastline with the five Great Lakes, I have a strong kinship to these beautiful, precious bodies of water. So, it was depressing to read Egan’s heavily researched book detailing the many problems that face the lakes today. The beautiful clear, blue waters of Lake Michigan do not demonstrate its health. Instead, its clarity is due to an invasion of zebra and quagga mussels from bilge water originating from the Caspian Sea, sucking up 90 percent o ...more
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan gives the reader a good picture of the Great Lakes and the troubles which they face today. I was impressed with the research and care which Egan took in writing this book and found it easy to understand for a non-scientist.

Egan describes the Great Lakes as seen by the first Europeans as being majestic inland oceans surrounded by pristine forests. He goes on to illustrate their importance in the world today:

Most all the water on the planet—some 97
This wonderful and timely book is a great read about a timely subject. The writing is snappy and engaging, and can transform sometimes fairly technical discussions into a captivating study. What emerges clearly from this book is the critical importance of a much more sophisticated public conversation about the health of the Great Lakes at a time where there are proposal to reduce federal funding for crucial ecological restorations by as much as 97%.

The Great Lakes have already repeatedly suffere
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I liked the overall story arc of the book. Egan really brought home the impact of invasive species, the ecology and health of the lakes, water conservation, and all the varied changes we humans have made to the lakes over the past century or two.

I was worried at first it would be dry but overall, I enjoyed the book. There were moments when the book goes into detail about a specific fish or mussel and I started to drift off until the author told another story that illustrates why the past severa
Leo Walsh
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Journalist Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is a dense, detailed but fascinating look at where I hang my hat, on the shores of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. I lived through much of what Egan writes of here. When I was growing up in the late 70;s and early 80's, Lake Erie had recovered from the algal blooms that had choked it and the nasty pollution that caused the Cuyahoga to burn. Still, I heard about these incidents. Just like I'd heard my father moan about the decline and ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A few chapters toward the beginning moved a bit too slowly for me, but the rest of the book was great. The first half of the book should have been subtitled: What are Ballasts and How Can They Affect the Health of Lakes and Even Threaten the Lives of Humans? The short and interesting answer is that boats are built with areas that can be filled with water, ballast water, which is taken in upon takeoff and dumped when the boat fills up with cargo. If the water that was taken in the boat comes from ...more
Deb Andrade
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Born and bred in the eastern US, I first laid eyes on Lake Michigan in my early 20's. It was in Chicago during my first bona fide business trip after university. Prior to that, my idea of a formidable body of water was the Atlantic Ocean. However, over the next 40 years, Lake Michigan would come to replace the Atlantic as the emotional anchor for this Pisces. I eventually lived and worked next to it, raised two kids who swam in it, and even own a house on an island in the middle of it.

Personal c
Carol Evans
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I was actually at Lakeside Chautauqua on Lake Erie for a week earlier this summer. I’ve lived in Ohio most of my life and even if we don’t go up to Lake Erie often, it’s still part of our state identity, if that makes sense, which is why The Death and Life of the Great Lakes caught my attention. It’s an interesting book and an easy read, even for a non-history, non-science girl like me. We all know that humans affect the environment, but found it really interesting how a lot of the problems the ...more
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Excellent, if sobering, history of trade, recreation and ecosystems on the Great Lakes. Also covers related changes in the rest of the country, including the Mississippi basin and Lake Mead. Very readable and interesting!

Dan Egan is reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, focused specifically on the Great Lakes. This book focuses primarily on the ecosystem, from pristine (famed lake trout) to heavily invaded (the ale wife and later quagga mussels) to some form of recovery (white fish evolvi
Gail Baugniet
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My first 23 years were spent around, on, or in Lake Michigan, one of the "best" of the Great Lakes. How true it is that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, as was proved to the fishing industry on this lake. One time the beaches were so polluted with dead alewives, the smell forced everyone to stay away. My dad loved fishing for trout, coho, and chinook salmon. I have been reading about the Great Lakes all my life, so winning this book in a Goodreads Giveaway was better than winning a ...more
Pamela Mikita
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and well written. So interesting, but man, what a freaking bummer of a topic. It reminded me of a quote from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. “Natures creative power is far beyond mans instinct of destruction.” What a crock. We have been killing those amazing lakes, knowingly, and because of the almighty dollar they will never be the same. Nature has nothing on us Jules Verne! Our entire water systems are being spoiled in one way or another and we happily chug on. I’m glad I’ll be d ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Non-fiction journalism about the history of The Great Lakes and the invasive and native species within. I'm neither a fisherman nor a wildlife biologist, and I found this book to be engaging -- page-turning, in fact -- very accessibly written.

I found myself hating humans, admiring nature, and thinking about the Great Lakes almost like a part of the body. If the Great Lakes have an infection, it affects the rest of our country.

Again, I am reminded of the importance of maintaining healthy waterway
Katlyn Putney
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was incredible. Somehow, the author brought suspense and action into what some might think is a boring subject and I truly was wide-eyed throughout each chapter. As a life-long fan of Lake Michigan, it was fascinating to read the science and politics behind the problems and triumphs that I remember hearing about or witnessing myself during my childhood. Also, I can confirm that dead alewives smell horrible.
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Dan Egan is a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and he has won the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award, John B. Oakes Award, AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award, and J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, he lives in Milwaukee with his wife and children.

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Ciannon Smart has been holed up in her England home since the pandemic began a year ago, but by no means has she been idle. She’s been on...
30 likes · 6 comments
“Roughly 97 percent of the globe’s water is saltwater. Of the 3 percent or so that is freshwater, most is locked up in the polar ice caps or trapped so far underground it is inaccessible. And of the sliver left over that exists as surface freshwater readily available for human use, about 20 percent of that—one out of every five gallons available on the planet—can be found in the Great Lakes.” 2 likes
“A normal lake is knowable. A Great Lake can hold all the mysteries of an ocean, and then some.” 1 likes
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