Elixir: A History of Water and Humankindby Brian Fagan
In Elixir, New York Times bestselling author Brian Fagan tells the story of our most vital resource and how it has shaped our history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the parched present of the Sunbelt. Fagan relates how every human society has been shaped by its relationship to our most essential resource. This sweeping narrative moves across the world,/i>/i>
In Elixir, New York Times bestselling author Brian Fagan tells the story of our most vital resource and how it has shaped our history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the parched present of the Sunbelt. Fagan relates how every human society has been shaped by its relationship to our most essential resource. This sweeping narrative moves across the world, from ancient Greece and Rome, whose mighty aqueducts still supply modern cities, to China, where emperors marshaled armies of laborers in a centuries-long struggle to tame powerful rivers. As the earth's population approaches nine billion and ancient aquifers run dry, we once again remember the importance of this vital resource. To solve the water crises of the future, we may need to adapt the water ethos of our ancestors, captured here in rich detail by Brian Fagan.
Anthropologist Fagan (Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans, 2010, etc.) spins a tale of water, water everywhere—water that is damn hard to get at, and getting harder to find every day.
Humans cannot live without the stuff, of course. Yet, writes the author, "[o]f all the resources that we rely on for survival in today's world, water is the least appreciated and certainly the most misunderstood." It has not always been so. Fagan serves up anecdotes and historical episodes showing how pre-industrial people, or at least people wiser than we, properly appreciated water, from the San hunters of the Kalahari, who see the whole world as a sometimes grudging source of the substance, to John Wesley Powell's efforts to create political divisions in the American West not based on surveyors' straight lines but on natural watersheds. Politics is important to Fagan's story, for much of human history hinges on control of water. The author examines the famed Wittfogel hypothesis of anthropological renown, which keyed the development of political institutions to bureaucracies surrounding water in places such as Mesopotamia. However, the control of water is not necessarily coercive—and there the story turns to lessons for our own time, a scramble for control on the part of private concerns wishing to monetize what has long been held a public good, which will require of us "long-term thinking ... decisive political leadership and...a reordering of financial priorities." If that seems improbable, so do some of the engineering feats that Fagan recounts—even if it seems that, over time, we've gotten worse at managing this essential resource.
Long and discursive, but a rewarding survey of water's role in history and contemporary politics alike.
- Bloomsbury USA
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Meet the Author
Brian Fagan was born in England, did fieldwork in Africa, and taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Fish on Friday, The Little Ice Age, The Long Summer, and the New York Times bestseller The Great Warming.
James Langton trained as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. An AudioFile Earphones Award winner, he has performed many voice-overs and narrated numerous audiobooks. James was born in York, England, and is now based in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews