Monica 's Reviews > The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: kindle_nonfiction, science, soc-sci-politics, history, pub_2010s, 5-star, read-harder-2018, tbr_2018, top-5-2018

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 assets. What has transpired in the history of the Great Lakes is fundamentally about corporate avarice as well as individual hubris and macho individualism and selfishness. Heck, that's the story of America.

Egan believes that in the coming years, fresh water will become the world's most precious resource. The Great Lakes are home to 20% of the fresh water supply in the world. We share the Great Lakes with our neighbor to the north, Canada (perhaps that is why there is no talk of building a wall there--oh who am I kidding, the American perception of a Canadian is a white male drinking beer and using the word "Ay" at the end of every sentence). Needless to say, as we face an uncertain future with climate change, the maintenance of the Great Lakes becomes paramount. It truly is the most lucrative treasure that we have. So of course we have a deep history of exploitation and greed and general selfishness that has reared its ugly head since their discovery. Funny thing is, that shortsighted stinginess on a massive scale may have been what saved the Great Lakes from an ecological death.

History details the discovery of the inland sea. There was a desire to make the metropolitan areas that emerged on the lakes into major ports of call. More opportunity to export and import commerce worldwide to inland cities. Thus became the desire to build a canal from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. There was a desire to capitalize on this idea much in the same way that the canals enhanced commerce around the world (Suez, Panama etc). This desired represented one of the more successful bilateral country treaties. The expense was beared by the US and Canada and the system would run through both countries. Egan chronicles the development of the various locks and canals (Erie etc) to connect the Atlantic Ocean via the St Lawrence seaways to the Great Lakes. It's win-win!! What could possibly go wrong…? Well for starters, they built the canal to work with 19th century ships of transport. In a word, too small. And the desire to increase the size of the canals were dampened by the incredibly large price tag associated with expansion. So only the smaller ships could make their ways to the Great Lakes so cities like Chicago and Cleveland and Toledo etc, never get to be major ports of call except for trade among other metropolitan cities located on or near the Great Lakes. Ah, but this doesn't stop the callous disregard for the treasure of fresh water. Indeed, entitled Americans and corporations were rife with disdain for their lucre. The cities located on the lakes essentially made them into a giant toilet bowl and trash dump. A situation so pervasive that it gave rise to disease outbreaks in the cities and the rivers that fed the Great Lakes quickly became toxic, flammable trash heaps endangering the health of the population as well as the fish. Back then as well as today, action is predicated upon greed. The commerce in the cities was faltering and the fishing industry suffering and thus was born the Clean Water Act. Shortsightedness was never in short supply, the clean water act did not include the ships coming in from the Atlantic dumping their ballast water, thus begins the alien species invasions. Some of which were horrific. These environmental invasions were by far the most terrifying and overwhelming. The methods of dealing with it included eradication of a species with very targeted poisons to genetic manipulation (which introduces some truly scary ethical considerations) to introducing new alien species to control (see eat) the other invasive species. But controlling an alien invasion wasn't the only reason for introducing new species into the Great Lakes. Native Trout fish don't provide much of a challenge, so in order to attract sport fishing to the Lakes, Chinook Salmon were introduced. They are a far more interesting sport fish and the come with the added bonus of subsisting on an alien species fish. But these man made forms of control obviously and inevitably had unintended consequences…every time. There are tales of sparkling water salesmen and of men trying to sell fresh water (owned by public) to other countries and trying to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes that have already invaded national water system (carp) and tales of invasive species in the Great Lakes escaping into the national water system (mussels). There are ecological battles being waged daily all over the country that people seem to know little about. Always we are in danger of putting the lakes out of balance and thus frankly the entire country. The most important battle is of course climate change. With the average lake temperatures rising 1.6 F degrees a year translates into less ice which translates into higher water temps which translates into more evaporation and a receding shorelines of the lakes. Though Egan stresses that the Lakes are likely to be around in our lifetimes, he wonders about his children and future generations.

For all of these dangers (mostly man-made and ignored until it becomes impossible to do such), Egan presents some optimism. For all of the foibles, the Lakes seem to be adjusting and bouncing back. The eradication of one species saw the resurgence of other native species. The Lakes seem to endure. Egan ends the book by saying that it will be future generations that have to deal with the importance of the Great Lakes. He shows a picture of his young son catching his first trout and hopes that it sparked his interest in preserving the Lakes.

This was a fantastic book that richly details the history of the Great Lakes and outlines the historical, political, economic and environmental battles. Frankly I think this is must read stuff for mankind to discover the ecological mess we are making and understanding why we need to care. Egan has written an engaging and interesting masterpiece. A far more enjoyable and surprisingly optimistic and positive read than expected. Recommended for anyone who cares about the Earth!!

5 Stars

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Reading Progress

October 15, 2017 – Shelved
October 15, 2017 – Shelved as: purchase-or-borrow
December 30, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 30, 2017 – Shelved as: kindle_nonfiction
December 30, 2017 – Shelved as: science
December 30, 2017 – Shelved as: soc-sci-politics
December 30, 2017 – Shelved as: history
April 7, 2018 – Shelved as: pub_2010s
Started Reading
May 26, 2018 – Shelved as: 5-star
May 26, 2018 – Finished Reading
June 29, 2018 – Shelved as: read-harder-2018
June 29, 2018 – Shelved as: tbr_2018
September 13, 2018 – Shelved as: top-5-2018

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Caro (new)

Caro the L. of the H. Great review!


Monica Caro wrote: "Great review!"

Thank you Caro!!


message 3: by Carol. (new)

Carol. Excellent review. I get so depressed about the lack of long range vision. We'll just ignore the WI governor selling off Great Lakes assets somewhat illegally, to cater to Foxcomm and the constituents in Waukesha. The Great Lakes Compact was the only thing holding some of these cities back from grabbing all the water they can.


message 4: by James (new)

James Michigan DEQ just allowed Nestle to take 400 GPM from the Great lakes, up from 250GPM. all for a $200 per year license fee. so while Michigan yells and screams about "protecting the Great Lakes" its government gives away the resource for nearly nothing. and doesn't even get any jobs for it, or any environmental investment programs from Nestle. sadness. major sadness. and Trump's administration is just accelerating the destruction... ugh.


message 5: by Monica (last edited May 29, 2018 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Monica Carol. wrote: "Excellent review. I get so depressed about the lack of long range vision. We'll just ignore the WI governor selling off Great Lakes assets somewhat illegally, to cater to Foxcomm and the constituen..."

Thank you Carol.!! Yes, WI is very prominent in this book w/ Foxxcom and other misadventures...


Monica James wrote: "Michigan DEQ just allowed Nestle to take 400 GPM from the Great lakes, up from 250GPM. all for a $200 per year license fee. so while Michigan yells and screams about "protecting the Great Lakes" it..."

Michigan is also quite prominent in this book. Of course there is a mention of the Flint water crisis. Gov Snyder is a corporatist and a disaster...


message 7: by James (new)

James yep! Michigan can give away water to Nestle but can't get water to Flint or fix the damaged pipelines... more racism poorly disguised as policy decisions...


message 8: by Carol. (new)

Carol. Sigh. Thanks for taking the time to do such a nice review and help others understand the issues the book covers.


Monica James wrote: "yep! Michigan can give away water to Nestle but can't get water to Flint or fix the damaged pipelines... more racism poorly disguised as policy decisions..."

Dude, do not even get me started... ;-)


Monica Carol. wrote: "Sigh. Thanks for taking the time to do such a nice review and help others understand the issues the book covers."

Thanks Carol.!! Goodness knows you'd never do that for anyone except in every last one of your reviews... ;-)


message 11: by Carol. (new)

Carol. :)


message 12: by Edwin (new) - added it

Edwin Priest Wow. Now on my TBR shelf.


Monica Edwin wrote: "Wow. Now on my TBR shelf."

Absolutely "must read" for you Ed!!


message 14: by Andy (new)

Andy Guess what Monica, am moving to Milwaukee by month’s end. Super interested in all you (and others) read and said here. Thanks for capturing so much !!!


Monica Andy wrote: "Guess what Monica, am moving to Milwaukee by month’s end. Super interested in all you (and others) read and said here. Thanks for capturing so much !!!"

Hey Andy!!! Definitely check this one out and wow!! Congratulations?!? Sounds like an exciting adventure for you and your family!! Details!!


message 16: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Monica wrote: "Carol. wrote: "Excellent review. I get so depressed about the lack of long range vision. We'll just ignore the WI governor selling off Great Lakes assets somewhat illegally, to cater to Foxcomm and..."

It's good to know that this book is willing to take on current manipulators and point out the value of the Great Lakes Compact


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