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Publisher's Summary

When you turn on the tap or twist the cap, you might not give a second thought to where your drinking water comes from. But how it gets from the ground to your glass is far more complex than you might think. Is it safe to drink tap water? Should you feel guilty buying bottled water? Is your water vulnerable to terrorist attacks? With springs running dry and reservoirs emptying, where is your water going to come from in the future?

In Drinking Water, Duke professor 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.

Bloody conflicts over control of water sources stretch as far back as the Bible yet are featured in front page headlines even today. Only 50 years ago, selling bottled water sounded as ludicrous as selling bottled air. Salzman weaves all of these issues together to show just how complex a simple glass of water can be.

©2012 James Satzman (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC

What members say

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Hard not to be affected by this book

We all depend on water. Without water we die. Unclean water kills about 3.4 million people per year and is among the leading causes of death in humans today. This book accomplishes the rather impressive feat of giving the reader a broad introduction to various issues associated with drinking water. In one book he manages to cover the history and myths associated with water, justice and economic issues (who gets to drink and can you charge for water), safety and health issues, terrorist issues, and last but not least, how you can help bring water to those who do not have it today.

This tendency to associate powers with water is as strong as ever in our modern society, which is partly why it is extremely profitable for companies to sell bottled water. These companies rarely shy away from shouting out grandiose claims about the properties of their water. The fact is that, with some exceptions, tap water is as good or better than bottled water which may come from contaminated springs.

In chapter 2 and chapter 7 Salzman discusses the often forgotten but extremely important issue of whether water should be considered to be an essential human right or whether it should be considered a commodity, or perhaps rather a little bit of both. Humans who don’t get water die is one very good argument for why water should be a human right. However, should we say therefore that it is not ok to sell water. It is after all not free to transport water from those who have it in excess to those who have too little. If people are allowed to earn money on water they might even work hard to build systems that allow them to transfer their commodity to their potential customers. Salzman, even if he may not say so explicitly seem to argue that a combination of these two approaches is best. The romans developed a very efficient system for delivering water to all their people, but that would not have been possible was it not for the money they earned by selling privileges (e.g. water directly into your house), to the rich. There are few things that motivate people and businesses as much as money and often the best products are achieved if people are allowed to earn money when they do deliver.

Another thing that become evident when reading this book is that there is really no such thing as clean water, only water that is clean enough. Water taste different depending on where it originates from. Almost all water, including tap water in western nations, also contain certain small concentrations of poisons such as arsenic and lead. As if that was not enough there are many kinds of bacteria that also live in our water sources. To eradicate every kind of contaminant completely from the water we drink would be excruciatingly expensive, and it would really not be worthwhile given that the human body is generally quite good at handling small amounts of contaminants (this why I am rarely convinced by alarm report saying potential carcinogen found in x - it is often (not always) negligible amounts). I guess the lesson that should be learned is that our tap water is clean (again there are exceptions), but that does not mean that it is devoid of any microbes

Apart from being a good book, it also made me realize the importance of providing clean water to those who do not have it. The benefits go very far, because not only does unclean water kill people and make them sick, it also uses up people’s time when they have to walk, sometimes several miles to get water (dirty water). Often girls in Africa have to quit school at an early age in order to spend their days fetching water. Indeed in Africa alone people spend 40 billion hours per year, fetching water. It is indeed hard not be affected by this book

29 of 31 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 01-02-13

A must read book

Water is going to be our next major crisis in this world. We are already facing drought in many areas of the world which will bring famine and disease. This book covers the history of water then goes into the political and social problems that are beginning on a world wide basis. He discusses the current debate as to whether assess to water is a human right or is water just a another business commodity. Humans can not live with out water nor can plants or other animal so who should control it? This book will leave you with lots to think about on a global basis but also on a personal basis. After reading this book will it make you stop and think about your personal use and abuse of water? What can you do to make the best use of water and water conservation. Should you put rainwater collection and cisterns on your house? This is a must read book for everyone on this plant. We in the USA and Canada are very lucky with the abundance of water but it is not going to last unless we do something and what of the people without water, these are important question that Salzman asks. Lee Hahn did a good job narrating this book.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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Partially difficult to listen to

I had issue with parts of this book and found myself forcing me to listen to it at times. there is a lot of great research and facts put forward in this book. But where the author loses me is when Bible verses make its way into the book too frequently that I can't take the book seriously. there is still great stuff here but some of the work could have been left on the editing floor.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Narration bad slow monotone. Book good

Terrible narration
Monotone
Very good content
Compelling discussion about past and future of drinking water
Well researched

*********

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Reads like a mediocre essay

While the narrator did well and the information is good, the writing felt disjointed, and the point felt missed. The whole rant at the beginning about water as a holy symbol simply didn't lead anywhere.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent primer on drinking water/water issues

Any additional comments?

If you have any curiosity about your drinking water -- and really, considering that other than oxygen, it is the one thing you need more than any other, how could you not be curious? -- this slim book offers an excellent and concise history and prospectus about current and developing issues surrounding the world's drinking water and everyone's access to it. The book brings into focus just how very fortunate Americans are by and large (with Flint being the exception that proves the rule) to have ready access to safe drinking water, and how very inexpensive our water is considering how important it is. The author, a professor at Duke, aptly explains the sciences that have made our water increasingly safe and he does an admirable job in weighing dangers - including dangers that the public often blows entirely out of proportion. He points out, for instance, that our treatment of our drinking water (commonly through chlorination) has greatly reduced our chances of getting ill from our water. Specifically, in 1890 an American had a 1 in 20 chance of dying from a gastrointestinal infection before the age of 70; in 1970 that had dropped to a 1 in 3,330 chance; and in 1990 a mere 1 in 2 million chance. He points out that some fear the filtering process and trace amounts of chemicals in the water, but part of the assessment must be what the processes already protect us from and whether we have any evidence to know if trace amounts cause a health issue and, even if they do, if the cost of eliminating them are commensurate with the risks. In the end, and in rational scientific fashion, he points out that water is never 100% safe, but that it is safer than it has ever been. If you want to feel lucky and be armed for some of the burgeoning water issues in the future (shortages, droughts, continued safety, potential target for terrorists), this is an excellent place to start.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Some revelations about water I didn't know ...

While the story and content was interesting I struggled to finish with the narrator's lack of pizzazz and his monotone voice. I would recommend the book for the content alone and the insights a listener will gain. I liked the way the author kept the story-line moving. Also, most of my questions and concerns were addressed by sticking with the book.

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Avoid

Not sure what would be the goal of the author for ranting chapter after chapter of religious mumbo jumbo.

One chapter for future technologies, four of religion.

Not worth the time and nothing new to add to the conversation.

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Required Reading

Should be required reading for highschool kids and all politicians. Very enlightening on how water has affected the way societies progressed and the way that people can be manipulated - think bottled water...

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Incredibly boring! i t wish I could send it back.


Couldnt finish. Was monotonous and so boring. I did not finish and would like my money back.

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  • GemmaQ
  • 09-13-17

Oh dear!

From the announcement at the beginning about their "professional voice artists" or whatever, you might have thought the person narrating would be good, but -alas!
He has a nice voice, but he sounds as though he is reading it for the first time out loud, whilst doing his tax return as his main task.
I really wanted to read this book, because I find the subject matter interesting & it was recommended by BBC Radio 4. I will struggle on with it, but I'd love the narrator to join in a bit, show a tiny bit of interest perhaps. Obviously those "prevailing union rates" aren't worth the effort!