Friday, May 24, 2013

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman

I somehow have found myself three books behind on book reviews, and all three were excellent books. I have them all posted now with this review for The Big Thirst. One of my office mates came back from Spring Break and told me that this was a book that I had to read. He gave me a summary and told me it was all about one of my favorite subjects, water. I am an environmental engineer / water resources engineer. Water is my career and is now what I am teaching about to the next generation. Would this book enthrall a lady of water like me? The answer is yes. I was fascinated by The Big Thirst, and what is even better, it was written in such a way that you don’t have to be a water expert to enjoy it. Fishman wrote the book at a down to earth level that can easily be understood, while including enough facts and figures to keep someone like me interested.

Fishman tells the story of the importance of water to human beings and how the use of water was revolutionized one-hundred years ago when cities began to pipe clean water to each household in the United States. The problem is that now most Americans take this water for granted.

Fishman explored how the driest city in the United States, Las Vegas, uses innovative means to make sure that their fountains are flowing and guests are supplied with plentiful water in a wonderfully named chapter “Dolphins in the Desert”. I was fascinated, but “water czar” Patricia Mulroy also made me nervous when she stated that she thought Great Lakes water should be piped to places like Las Vegas. I take Fishman to task for not further exploring this idea and why it is not the same as the mining of oil. Water is a replenishable source. If you take it away from the Great Lakes to an outside watershed that far away, it is never coming back. Meanwhile the Great Lakes (which are already at historic lows), would not be able to provide the habitat for its native species, water for the people that live in the many cities that surround them, water for the boats that haul freight, iron ore, etc. on the lakes, and water for tourism which is a large part of the economy of most cities along the great lakes. I believe that if people want Great Lakes water, then they should move to the Great Lakes region. End of story. I will get off my soap box now and politely put it away.

Fishman also examine water uses in other countries – in particular Australia and India. I was amazed about the story of India’s water. I had no idea that the major urban cities do not have 24/7 water service and laugh that the idea is even possible. The water quality in India was distressing. I hope with all of the technical expertise and knowledge that India has, that they will soon tackle and solve this very pressing issue. It was also sad that lower income girls are not able to attend school in India because they spend their time either hauling water home for their families or waiting for the water truck in urban cities. Very sad.

I could go on about this book all day, but I will curb myself. The book did repeat some information towards the end, but Fishman was using it as points to wrap up his conclusions. Overall, this is an excellent book and a must read for everyone who drinks water and would like to continue to do so in the future.

This book had MANY great quotes, but I will pick only a couple to share:

“By 1936, they conclude, simple filtration and chlorination of city water supplies reduced overall mortality in U.S. cities by 13 percent. Clean water cut child mortality in half.”

“The problem is that bottled water is a wacky, funhouse-mirror version of the real world of water. Bottled water subtly corrodes our confidence in tap water, creating the illusion that bottled water is somehow safer, or better, or healthier. In fact, tap water is much more tightly regulated and monitored than bottled water.”

“Just in India, forty children an hour under five years old die from contaminated water. One Indian toddler, not even old enough for kindergarten, dies every ninety seconds from bad water, twenty-four hours a day.”

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library


  1. Laura, I see why your coworker recommended this book to you, although this book sounds fascinating to me also. The quotes you chose to feature are unbelievable!

  2. I love reading good non-fiction books that teach me new things. This one sounds really good. It's the kind of book I would read. Great review, and I agree with your opinion about the Great Lakes.

  3. I'm glad you agree with my opinion of the Great Lakes! This is definitely a fascinating non-fiction book to check out, I highly recommend it to the both of you.

    I forgot to add to my review that my 7-year old son also enjoyed bits of this book. I read some of it out loud to him at night and he enjoyed it. He started asking for it!