Salzman (Law and Environmental Policy/Duke Univ.) looks at the history of drinking water and how it is connected to a range of global environmental, social and political issues.
The drinking of water, writes the author, is “one of the few human actions and conditions that are truly universal,” and the quest for potable water is intertwined with nearly every aspect of human life. Inspired by popular histories such as Mark Kurlansky’s Salt (2002), Salzman presents a broad examination of drinking water through the ages. He examines mythological and religious ideas surrounding drinking water, referencing Ponce de León’s fabled quest for the Fountain of Youth, the reputedly healing waters at Lourdes in southern France and centuries-old Jewish and Islamic drinking-water laws. The author then embarks on a wide-ranging discussion of water safety, including natural arsenic contamination and terrorist threats to water supplies. Other major subjects include the amazing rise of bottled water and the politics of water access in places such as New York City, McCloud, Calif., and Cochabamba, Bolivia. As might be evident by this description, Salzman covers a lot of ground in this relatively short book, rarely resting very long on one subject before jumping to the next, and he rattles off facts at a rapid-fire pace. With so many areas to cover, it’s no surprise that he ends with the perfunctory assertion that “[t]he story of drinking water is still being written.” The book is consistently entertaining, however, and Salzman delivers it all in a light, accessible style.
An appealing, fact-filled overview of the most basic necessity of human life.