Drinking Water: A History


When we turn on the tap or twist open a tall, cold plastic bottle, we might not give a second thought to where our drinking water comes from. But how it gets from the ground to the glass is far more complex than we might think. With concerns over pollution and new technologies like fracking, is it safe to drink tap water? Should we feel guilty buying bottled water? Is the water we drink vulnerable to terrorist attacks? With springs running dry and reservoirs emptying, where is ...

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Drinking Water: A History

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When we turn on the tap or twist open a tall, cold plastic bottle, we might not give a second thought to where our drinking water comes from. But how it gets from the ground to the glass is far more complex than we might think. With concerns over pollution and new technologies like fracking, is it safe to drink tap water? Should we feel guilty buying bottled water? Is the water we drink vulnerable to terrorist attacks? With springs running dry and reservoirs emptying, where is our water going to come from in the future?

In Drinking Water, Duke University professor and environmental policy expert James Salzman shows how drinking water highlights the most pressing issues of our time—from globalization and social justice to terrorism and climate change—and how humans have been wrestling with these problems for centuries. From the aqueducts of Rome to the revolutionary sewer system in nineteenth-century London to today’s state-of-the-art desalination plants, safety and scarcity of water have always been one of society’s most important functions.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Writing in the popular style of world history seen through the lens of a commodity, Duke professor Salzman details the changing approaches that environmentalists, governments, and the open market have taken to this essential of life. Through exploring core questions in water management—whether people have a right to access drinking water, whether it “should be managed as a commodity for sale or a public good,” what it means for water to be clean and safe—Salzman lucidly addresses controversial topics, such as the Clean Water Act and what it does and doesn’t ensure about the safety of our water supply; risks from arsenic contamination and fracking; the benefits of systemwide versus point of use purification; and whether it helps or hurts communities to sell access to their water sources to private corporations. A special focus on the New York City area brings stories about the slaughterhouse-tainted “Collect,” the Tea Water Pump, and the creation of Chase Manhattan Bank under the pretense of privatized water management in the late 1700s, and the building of the massive Croton Reservoir, which was inaugurated in 1842. Finally, Salzman discusses approaches that may define future water use, such as desalinization, investment in infrastructure, and harvesting water from space. Salzman puts a needed spotlight on an often overlooked but critical social, economic, and political resource. Illus. Agent: Doris Michaels, Doris S. Michaels Literary Agency. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Though he ranges widely, Mr. Salzman, who teaches law and environmental studies at Duke, focuses on what one might call social justice. Access to water may be viscerally regarded as a “right,” but he points out that the best way to ensure a reliable supply of pure water, especially in poor regions, is often to privatize it." —The New York Times

"What do Rome’s aqueducts, Napoleon’s death, and the pilgrimage site of Lourdes have in common?  All involve water: the leading ingredient of our bodies, essential for our daily lives, and the subject of innumerable struggles.  Why does bottled water, the cheapest and most abundant liquid, sell for more than the same volume of gasoline?  Even if you prefer to drink wine—it’s mostly water anyway—you’ll enjoy this book." —Jared Diamond, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

"Instead of buying your next twelve-pack of bottled water, buy this fascinating account of all the people who spent their lives making sure you'd have clean, safe drinking water every time you turned on the tap." —Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

"Drinking Water effortlessly guides us through a fascinating world we never consider. Even for people who think they know water, there is a surprise on almost every page." —Charles Fishman, bestselling author of The Big Thirst and The Wal-Mart Effect

"Meticulously researched, grandly conceived, and splendidly executed, Drinking Water takes a prosaic subject and makes it endlessly fascinating. Smart, witty, and perceptive, Drinking Water is essential reading." —Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It

"Salzman has produced gem of uncommon value—a fascinating book which slips in among its engaging stories their weighty implications for policy." —William K. Reilly, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former President of the World Wildlife Fund

"In his deeply thorough, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book, James Salzman shows why water security and quality are set to boil to the surface of world’s politics." —John Elkington, author of The Green Consumer’s Guide and Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business

"Immensely readable, the book weaves one entertaining story after another to show how we have thought about, valued, protected, and provided this most precious of all liquids." —Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and The Dominant Animal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781468307115
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 614,346
  • Product dimensions: 5.41 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

James Salzman holds the Samuel Mordecai chair at the School of Law and the Nicholas Institute Professor chair at the School of the Environment at Duke University. He has written extensively on the topics of environmental conservation, population growth, and climate change. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

For more information, please visit drinkingwaterhistory.com

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Table of Contents

Preface 9

Introduction: Mother McCloud 15

1 The Fountain of Youth 25

2 Who Gets to Drink? 46

3 Is It Safe to Drink the Water? 72

4 Death in Small Doses 113

5 Blue Terror 140

6 Bigger Than Soft Drinks 161

7 Need Versus Greed 192

8 Finding Water for the Twenty-first Century 225

Afterword: A Glass Half Empty/A Glass Half Full 255

Notes 259

Index 311

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