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Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

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An inspiring personal story of redemption, second chances, and the transformative power within us all, from the founder and CEO of the nonprofit charity: water.

At 28 years old, Scott Harrison had it all. A top nightclub promoter in New York City, his life was an endless cycle of drugs, booze, models--repeat. But 10 years in, desperately unhappy and morally bankrupt, he asked himself, "What would the exact opposite of my life look like?" Walking away from everything, Harrison spent the next 16 months on a hospital ship in West Africa and discovered his true calling. In 2006, with no money and less than no experience, Harrison founded charity: water. Today, his organization has raised over $300 million to bring clean drinking water to more than 8.2 million people around the globe.

In Thirst, Harrison recounts the twists and turns that built charity: water into one of the most trusted and admired nonprofits in the world. Renowned for its 100% donation model, bold storytelling, imaginative branding, and radical commitment to transparency, charity: water has disrupted how social entrepreneurs work while inspiring millions of people to join its mission of bringing clean water to everyone on the planet within our lifetime.

In the tradition of such bestselling books as Shoe Dog and Mountains Beyond Mountains, Thirst is a riveting account of how to build a better charity, a better business, a better life--and a gritty tale that proves it's never too late to make a change.

100% of the author's net proceeds from Thirst will go to fund charity: water projects around the world.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published October 2, 2018

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About the author

Scott Harrison

1 book57 followers
Scott Harrison is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit that has mobilized over one million donors around the world to fund over 28,000 water projects in 26 countries that will serve more than 8.2 million people. Harrison has been recognized on Fortune's 40 under 40 list, Forbes' Impact 30 list, and was ranked #10 in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business. He is currently a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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5 stars
2,814 (59%)
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410 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 584 reviews
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
September 3, 2018
I have really wrestled with my feelings about this book and how to deal with my issues. I considered just leaving some stars and be done with it. I don't think that is fair to any of the parties involved, not to the writer, the publisher or those who will consider purchasing the book. Thus, I will break it down to good and bad. I have returned 15 hours later to remove stars from this conversation so we can focus on essential matters. We are not children waiting to see if the teacher put a star on our coloring.

First let me establish my own credentials. I graduated from Florida State University with a Business Degree in Non-Profit Management, it was the first class in the Business School for Undergraduate work in the country at that time in 1986. Due to the low salaries, interest was insufficient for the college to continue offering this program (so I was 1 in 3). I have work experience with 3 different non-profits and volunteered my time with several more. I earned a full ride to all four years of college based on my academic achievements. Likewise, I was in the top 2% of my High School class. Few people know this about me, I am not one to brag, I am explaining my background as being no stranger to the business world. My career has always involved managing people, programs, marketing, communications and finances. Thus I had certain expectations when reading this book.

First the good, Scott Harrison is the ultimate pitch man. He believes he can change the world and is convinced no matter what your background, age or income, you can help. He states that all funds collected for charity:water (is how it was displayed in the Advanced Reading Copy); is supported 100% by donation only, to dig wells and they have dug many across the African Continent and changed many lives for the better. He does mention that there is a separate fund for contributions to offset rent, office supplies, salaries, mailing invitations, processing credit cards, and other necessities (high end parties targeting the wealthy for donations), - not that other charities don't do the same thing). He went from being a marketing/promoter for Night Clubs and rubbing elbows from movie stars, and dating top models to the bringing in the big boys to spend their cash on high prized booze while they gazed on the celebrities. He was using various drugs daily seemed to have everything. Then he hit his bottom and left that world to join Mercy Ships, which old ships converted into traveling hospitals that do surgery all over the African continent. After being there for nearly two years, handling their promotions and marketing, he realized that he wanted to go to the source of the many health problems he saw. Scott believed by providing wells for better health among the various African nations where war and other issues resulted in little governmental infrastructure to provide their peoples with healthy water. Many times, he witnessed adults and children drink water that was dark brown or green because the river or pond they had access to was not safe. It is an amazing story. I commend Scott for his dedication, his inspiration and his creativity.

Now the less appealing appraisal, it is hard to give a rating/review/appraisal on someone's life, since the format is autobiographical. Reading this book for me was like watching hours of late night local infomercials. I felt like I was reading 336 pages of a pep rally. The minutia that is explored made my brain numb. This book could be more influential if it was cut by at least 100 pages. Additionally, I read some names of people and know their affiliations and I was deeply disturbed that this Christian man was working with this caliber of person and in one instance, he played it off as if it was no big deal. As a Christian (which is what Scott claims to be, the scripture is clear that we don't affiliate with people, who are not in agreement with the scriptures). I am not saying don't go to lunch with someone because they have different beliefs, I am talking about being in a working relationship. This may not concern most readers but I deeply disturbs me. The fact he played it off, demonstrates that he knows better as well. Since this is not the final copy, I am not permitted to quote anything. I suspect if the book isn't finalized, my mention of this may prompt the removal of that story.

**I went to the website and I wasn't impressed, now, I didn't get far because I didn't want to provide my full name and email and permit cookies to be used! I am not looking at porn or some get rich quick scheme, I want to see what you do in the field. THIS IS A BIG RED FLAG FOR ME! As far as I am concerned, I don't want to be stalked by you just because I went to your website to see if it is as fantastic as you claim, thanks but how do I know you won't sell my information then I spend 15 minutes a day for months sending all your other charity buddies my data so they can ask for money as well.**

Furthermore, I read Mountains Beyond Mountains and I don't think it is a fair comparison. Yes, both are selfless and yes, their work is discussed but in Mountains Beyond Mountains, there wasn't a plea for money at least not in every paragraph! I think it might have come at the end but if there was it was subtle such as if you want to help, here is the address type solicitation.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this "story" made into a documentary and being shown at movie theaters in large communities with high, middle class income brackets (and many opportunities for donations). It is probably in the works at this moment. I would consider going but only after others commented on it's content because frankly, I wouldn't buy a theater ticket to watch 90 minutes of what I just read.

Most of the reader's didn't write a review currently (19 wrote nothing and 2 people left very brief and fluffy comments). Those 19 people didn't want to say what I will. The synopsis of this book is all you really need to know. If you buy the book so that you make a donation, more power to you at least they won't stick browser cookies into your book!

Thank you to Goodreads, Currency publishers and author Scott Harrison an opportunity to read this book in return for my honest opinion.

Edited September 2, 2018 for clarity.
Profile Image for Cat.
12 reviews4 followers
November 6, 2018
So I didn't get this book for free, and I didn't pay for it. Got it at the public library, so here is an unbiased review. I love a good memoir, and this reads like one, albeit quite long. However, it's almost more of a memoir of charity: water than it is of its founder. I LOVE the podcast "How I Built This" with Guy Roz, in which he interviews founders of very successful companies and talks to them about how they built their brand. This was like reading a very extensive How I Built This interview, with the ups and downs of starting something new and keeping it going.

I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed getting to know the founder more. He gave just the right amount of detail to his early life and the lead-up to founding the charity. I think he explained the challenges in bringing clean water to places very well, and I found myself rejoicing in their successes. The whole book could be considered a 'pitch' to donate to the charity, but I never felt pushed by the author. I enjoyed the pictures of the people he was talking about, and I even went online to the special link/passcode to see more at the end.
14 reviews1 follower
December 11, 2018
The book was okay, but I didn't love it. One thing that bothered me was that this book felt very much like a christian book. Which is totally fine, except there is no mention of this in the description, and I really would have liked to know that before I started reading it.
16 reviews7 followers
November 14, 2018
Inspiring and moving

Until I read this book, I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of the severity of the global water crisis that many countries are facing and their plight. But after reading this, I want to pledge something for it by spreading the awareness and contributing as much as I can.
Coming to the story of Scott, radical transformation from a night club promoter to chief of a charity organization is truly inspiring and yet another story that it’s never too late to make a change.
Profile Image for Carly Antor.
8 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2018
This book is not just about a charity, it's about so much more.

Of all the books I have read this year, this has been my favorite by far. This intersects many fields of interest, so I believe that even if you aren't sure you want to read a book about a 'charity' that you will find value in this. This is not just about charity work, but a book about building a business from the ground up, changing and disrupting an industry, the importance of marketing, working through a tough family situation involving ongoing sickness of a parent, the leaving behind of everything you know to start a new life, the transition to adulthood and journey of self discovery, balancing family life with a demanding career, and more. If any of these one topics sounds interesting to you or in alignment with your usual genre of reading, then this book is for you.

Not only is this a great personal testimony of changing the course of one's life for good, but this also gave a deep dive into just how challenging it is to create one of the world's greatest charities and bring about change on a global level. Scott overcame so much, and seeing how he solved problems, sought the Lord's wisdom in trying times, and changed the lives of millions made this book one of my favorites.
Profile Image for Brian Egge.
23 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2019
I was more interested in hearing stories about people getting water than Scott’s story, though much of the book revolves around him. He seems to really hype up his time as a club promoter, maybe with some regrets. He tries to get sympathy for flying in coach, or the difficulties of when a friend lets you borrow their chalet for a month and you have poor weather, but weaves those stories between people who have to walk eight hours a day for water.
Profile Image for Hannah Moerman.
290 reviews34 followers
February 27, 2019
i was really cynical about reading this book, because when you work for a non-profit, charity: water is the ideal. what i loved is scott harrison’s no-holding-back look at his failures and successes over 20 years. this book was refreshing, helped me learn more about the global water crisis, gave me some great perspective about why few non-profits will be charity: water (and why that is good + okay!), encouraged me to keep sharing incredible stories, photos, and experiences with donors, and gave me ideas for how to grow as a leader. this should be required reading if you work for a charity or non-profit, particularly if your non-profit and charity is involved in international development work.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,901 reviews19 followers
January 5, 2019
This is an autobiography of Scott Harrison. I didn't know who he was before reading this. And to be honest I didn't like him at all in the beginning. Maybe he played up that part of his life to make the latter part of his life more appealing. I don't know and it doesn't really matter....but it worked. He has done much good in life and he has raised millions upon millions of dollars for his charity, that digs wells in Africa bringing clean water to those who need it. So 4 stars.
Profile Image for Petesea.
199 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2019
I like charity: water, its mission and the work that it does, but I do not like Scott. I would have liked to hear more about how charity: water operates and the book paints it as a mostly Scott and Vik show. I expected more insights about what goes in to a successful, global non-profit.
Profile Image for Heather.
648 reviews23 followers
November 20, 2018
Fairly well written for someone who's not really a writer, and just an amazing and inspiring story. I own a hardcover if anyone wants to borrow it.
Profile Image for Megan.
1,660 reviews60 followers
August 3, 2019
I'll admit, I was skeptical about this book, particularly at the beginning when the author discusses his return to faith (flashbacks to my conservative Christian college - shudder!). But while the author makes mention of his faith and gives credit to his beliefs, he does not seek to convert people through the book. Rather he discusses his own journey in identifying a worldwide problem and using his own personal talents to try to solve the problem. He didn't always succeed, but he has made an incredible impact on many people's lives, especially in Africa. I didn't detect white savior complex either; just someone doing what he can. I was moved enough to become a monthly donor. Definitely worth reading! 4 stars
Profile Image for Samantha.
54 reviews
January 8, 2019
everyone should read this book. i seriously want to go out and change the world after reading this.
Profile Image for Rita Viegas.
31 reviews2 followers
February 9, 2020
Too often we are exposed to the bright side of success only.
We hear and read about successful people, successful companies and organisations and can’t help but to build in our minds the idea of success and happiness as a rightful destination.
We imagine life as a succession of events, clearly leading us to a well deserved, long hoped for, happy success.

Unfortunately to our expectations, life is often not a straight staircase with each step taking us clearly closer to any one end goal. Even when we put all our effort into something, there’s no guarantee of success (or the one we naively expect) and the sooner we make our peace with it, the better. For this reason, more and more I find value and insights in reading memoirs and being exposed to the different paths and ups and downs of different lives.

Thirst is one more example of it. From the good son to the rebellious teenager, the reckless young adult to the the naive volunteer, the “non-profit for dummies” charity:water founder to the inexperienced CEO, Scott Harrison takes us in a journey of twists and turns, but also of perseverance and dedication. In life paths that seem to be leading nowhere from up close, he shows us how each one can end up contributing in their own way to a different path when seen from the holistic perspective that only a memoir can provide.

There’s still no guarantee of the overall success. Sometimes an inch of luck is really what makes the ultimate difference, but one lesson is certain, no experience is ever wasted if you know how to learn from it.

“Mistakes are opportunities. It’s how you handle them that matters the most.”

Scott Harrison’s story it’s still a very successful story. As a natural story teller and the CEO of charity:water, he’s been able to bring clean water to some of the most unreachable places on earth, impacting the lives of millions. But besides inspiring us with his story, this books shows us how wrong turns are a part and even a needed part of life. It’s ok to be lost, to attempt and fail, to turn on the wrong curve, to risk all for what ends up seeming nothing.

If we can accept it, if we can learn from each experience, we can find in all of them the strength and the knowledge to continue pursuing our best selves.
Profile Image for Samuel Wood.
14 reviews
April 6, 2018
I received an early copy from Crown via my graduate program.

Scott's story is tremendous and amazing. While reading it, there were times where I felt a presence come over me, as if something unseen resonated with what I was reading. Please buy this book when it's released in October.
Profile Image for Ed Chang.
2 reviews4 followers
December 3, 2018
Amazing, touching story of a man on a path to reinvent himself and make a difference in the world
Profile Image for Michael Huang.
827 reviews37 followers
December 14, 2018
Harrison started playing keyboard in nightclubs after high school and became a promoter. A chance event made him join the effort of hospital ships. He discovered that there is a desperate need for clean water in Africa and started to pursue well drilling there. The book is his personal account of this growth story.
October 29, 2020
Scott Harrison, a night club promoter, was tired of living on the thrill of vices and chasing happiness from material wealth. He came to realize that serving others unconditionally was the key to living a meaningful life. With his communications degree he got himself a job on Mercy Ships, which operates hospital ships, as a journalist. Beyond just understanding the plight of people in some of the poorest nations, he learnt from experienced volunteer doctors that access to clean water alone would reduce half the number of illnesses. It was this insight that sparked him to create "Charity: Water", that has to date raised $370mn and brought clean water to 11mn people around the world.

In any charity organization, funding would be the biggest problem. If there was an infinite supply of money fulfilling people's basic needs would be much easier. I believe one of the reasons why Charity: Water has been so successful is because of their ability to deliver impactful stories and turn people into passionate donors.

Harrison quotes Journalist Nicholas Kristof who wrote “toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than the life-saving work of aid groups" and Charity: Water has certainly reversed that. In one of their charity gala dinners, the team had paired everyone of their guests with a beneficiary who is like them in some way and created personalized stories for them. Streamed from the village live, raised $12,000 for the drilling of a well in 3 minutes and allowed the guests witness the spouting of water from the well they started drilling a day before the event all through a VR headset. They went on to raise $3mn that night.

Picked this book up to learn more about Scott Harrison's journey from one who cared only about himself to someone who has inspired a team to impact million's of people's lives. Truly inspiring read!
Profile Image for KrisTina.
799 reviews8 followers
May 21, 2020
A strong 3.5 review (1/2 stars goodreads - that's all we are asking for!) - I liked it and the day after I finished it one of my children was being very crazy about needing a new toy and I took lessons learned from thirst (I just googled some of Charity Water's videos to try and teach said child that they are spoiled rotten) we then proceeded to count how many clean water opportunities are found in our house alone. This book read a little long but this was a good reminder that there are lots of things to be done to help make the world better. This also reminded me that I should probably re-read Half the Sky.
1 review
October 8, 2018
This is a very personal story by Scott Harrison of his journey from a confused, rebellious young boy whose mother had a strange illness and whose parents became zealous in their faith to a selfish, partying young man to the founder of a wonderful charity hoping to make a real difference in this world! The book is easy to read and will touch your heart and soul. Scott doesn't hide the truth of his life as a drinking, drug-using night club promoter. Instead he tells us how he used the skills and connections made during that time of his life to launch charity: water and to use new and different approaches to attract loyal, long-time donors. I personally love this charity and I enjoyed this book. I first donated because of a campaign discussed in the book. It was an inspiring but bittersweet campaign launched by a sweet little girl who shared the same birthday as me. Scott handles the chapter about this campaign perfectly. It is open, honest and touching and definitely brought a tear to my eye. There are a few other moments like this in the book where the reader is exposed to the tragedy and the plight of those who do not have clean water and the beauty of being able to provide people with such a basic human need, WATER. Scott doesn't shy away from the truth or any of the problems and issues encountered along the way. This story is an open, honest account of all that it has taken to establish this charity, make the 100% model for donations work and to grow this non-profity with hard work, dedication and love. I whole-heartedly recommend reading Thirst whether you are a donor, want to be a donor or just love a good story about making a real difference in this world. And, of course, 100% of the profits from sale of Thirst go to fund water projects! Go ahead, read this book. Buy a few copies for family and friends. Donate or join those of us who are part of The Spring and donate regulary. Be a part of the "mission to bring clean water to the world."
Profile Image for Lindsay Hickman.
147 reviews
October 17, 2018
I very rarely give five stars to any book, but this one checked all the right boxes for me. If you are not familiar with charity:water and Scott Harrison’s story he spends about the first third of the book giving a great history. One learns about his childhood, his family, life events that shaped him and how he ended up being a nightclub promoter in New York. I thought this section was fascinating because I’ve heard Harrison speak before, but never in such detail. The next part of the book is how he stumbled into founding one of the most unique charities in the world. I specifically enjoyed learning about his time with Mercy Ships and how that really shaped his life. (I won’t give anything away but this might be my favorite part of the book. The details, descriptions and places he goes are wonderfully described, and the stories pull on your heart strings.)
Finally the last third of the book is the story of charity:water from the very beginning.
What I loved most about this book was Scott’s ability to weave a bunch of different stories together to tell his own story: family problems, questioning beliefs, the rebellion, the success in New York, questioning his future, giving a year to charity, creating a charity, finding his wife, speaking of his kids’ births, and the failures and successes of the charity itself.
While this is definitely not a religious charity or book, but it is hard to not think that Scott has had Someone’s help from above, or just amazingly good timed luck-from childhood through the current time.
Great read-specifically because he talks about his doubts, failures and shortcomings. Scott is open, raw and completely human-something that is hard to find in a memoir or autobiography.
I for one completely believe that Scott and charity:water could end the water crisis in my lifetime.
Profile Image for Alesa.
Author 6 books106 followers
August 3, 2020
This was a very inspirational story -- sort of Three Cups of Tea (without the scandal) but about water, not girls' schools.

We follow Scott Harrison through a Christian upbringing, caring for his sickly mother, to young adulthood when he definitely goes astray. I had never know about the life of a club promoter, nor imagined that someone could earn gobs of money by hanging out with famous people, drinking expensive liquor, having lots of sex with models and taking drugs. No surprise that his health began to fail. What was a surprise, though, was that he had a Road to Damascus experience, and turned his life around, first by volunteering on a medical relief ship, and then by starting his own global charity.

You really have to admire someone like Harrison, who turns his back on glamor and what many would call ultimate success, in order to alleviate suffering around the world. He is so right in choosing water as his cause. We in the developed world take clean, healthy water for granted. But it is an incredible luxury to so many billion of people.

I'm glad my book club chose to read this. You can get the gist of the whole thing quickly, however, by watching the author's TED talk and YouTubes.
Profile Image for Katie Osborne.
43 reviews
November 29, 2018
This book solidifies Harrison's seat at the table alongside Nicholas Kristof and Dr. Paul Farmer. His journey around the world and back again is rivaled only by his quest to quench the world's insatiable thirst for clean water. While Harrison discovers and cultivates his Christian faith throughout his story, his message stems not from his religious faith, but from his faith in humanity. Harrison's own story spans over a few decades with enough momemtum to last a lifetime. He exemplifies the roots of human connection and our innate compassion for each other and this planet we all call home.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
210 reviews
September 9, 2019
This was a really inspiring book and brought me close to tears (especially at the end). I enjoyed reading about Scott's upbringing and lifestyle prior to charity: water. He was very candid about his thoughts regarding the positives and negatives that he's faced since starting charity: water, which I appreciate. I could feel his passion through his words.
Profile Image for Sean Burnham.
24 reviews
December 2, 2018
Extremely inspirational and at times truly unbelievable. This book is actually filled with quite a few business lessons, leadership lessons and overall life lessons that most of us probably need to hear.
Profile Image for Carrie Turansky.
Author 31 books1,287 followers
December 28, 2018
Outstanding book! You'll be inspired when you read or listen to this memoir about the founder of Charity Water. I listened to the audio, and it was great to hear the author read his story.
Profile Image for Donna LaValley.
419 reviews7 followers
September 6, 2020
I give this 3.5 stars: much admiration for charity:water and a bit less for the writing and the author.

There are two stories here. One is the Scott Harrison autobiography covering his life up to publication, and the second is about a phenomenal charity that he started and brought to success by using the experience, connections, talents, and abilities he has.

His childhood was normal and happy until his mother became seriously ill via carbon monoxide poisoning. Afterward, she had allergic reactions to many environmental triggers which caused suffering and no small inconvenience to the family. Scott was responsible for many household chores which his mother couldn’t do, and participated in the fundamentalist Christian faith that brought hope to his parents. However, he tired of the tiny Christian high school and changed to a public high school at just the right age to rebel. He joined a band where he used not only his musical ability but natural marketing skills. From there he went to New York, eventually becoming a successful, wealthy, influential nightclub manager. Every night he enjoyed great music, beautiful girls, booze, and drugs. He knew everyone, had scads of money, jetted around the world, and knew he was envied for all of it.

Perhaps it was his religious upbringing that made him eventually feel he was missing something meaningful in his life. He volunteered to work with Mercy Ships, and through that service discovered Africa’s lack of medical care. He was instrumental in changing lives for the better, even saving lives. Soon he figured out that sicknesses being treated on Mercy Ships could have been prevented if people had had clean water to drink and use. The need for clean water by all people and the consequences of not having it (illness, death) is what he wanted to address, not just the result. His next step was to imagine and begin “charity:water.”

Rather than follow established procedures, Scott went ahead and created a major organization from scratch, using his inventiveness, enthusiasm, and personal influence. He attracted good people who contributed decades to the cause and to him, and because he knew wealthy people, he could ask for and receive money to finance the project. His originality and the charity’s accountability were new and remarkable. The long history of the challenges and changes to charity:water are recounted. The whole thing is a grand accomplishment and it exists because of Scott Harrison.

What got to me eventually in reading the book was that there was a kind of cult atmosphere around Scott, which he encouraged. He has a great story and the world benefits because he tells it so many times; he’s a celebrity. I watched him on TED. There is nothing wrong with having a strong ego, unless it pokes out too sharply. For me, that happened on page 304 when he wrote that even his mother’s illness “was a gift to him” (him?) because “it taught him” …various lessons.

She did recover, by the way, after decades of struggle and deprivation. Both parents are very proud of their son, as is he.

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