• Empire of Water

  • An Environmental and Political History of the New York City Water Supply
  • By: David Soll
  • Narrated by: Douglas R. Pratt
  • Length: 11 hrs and 42 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (6 ratings)

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Empire of Water  By  cover art

Empire of Water

By: David Soll
Narrated by: Douglas R. Pratt
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Publisher's Summary

Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his finely observed history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds. Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city.

Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system - from the late 19th century to the early 21st century - focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. By tracing the evolution of the city’s water conservation efforts and watershed management regime, Soll reveals the tremendous shifts in environmental practices and consciousness that occurred during the 20th century.

Few episodes better capture the long-standing upstate-downstate divide in New York than the story of how mountain water came to flow from spigots in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His account of this unlikely environmental success story offers a "behind the scenes" perspective on the nation’s most ambitious and wide-ranging watershed protection program.

The book is published by Cornell University Press. The audiobook is published by University Press Audiobooks.

"This is first-rate environmental history." (Martin Melosi, University of Houston, author of The Sanitary City)

"Recommended." (Choice)

"David Soll ably deepens our understanding of New York's water supply." (American Historical Review)

©2013 Cornell University (P)2020 Redwood Audiobooks
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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How NYC came to dominate the waters of its region

Empire of Water is a worthwhile examination of how New York City became the owner and landlord of extensive acreage in the Catskills in its quest to build a reliable and clean water supply for its burgeoning population. The book, as its subtitle indicates, is a political, environmental, and really also a social survey and not an engineering study of the development of the water system, and how the city's relationship to that system changed over the course of a century. New York City, in the creation of this system, displaced thousands of upstate residents in several rounds of reservoir building, and in its final round even took control over the sources of the Delaware River, affecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Once the system was complete, however, the city became the quintessential absentee landlord, neglecting its properties to the detriment of its neighbors, leading to a series of crises in the late 20th century that forced a reckoning.

The book's chief faults are perhaps a too brief examination of just whom the city displaced, and a gloss over just why New York never tapped the Hudson.

The book is well narrated, and my chief quibble is that Ed Koch's last name should be pronounced like "Kotch", not "Coke" like the Koch brothers.

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Mispronounced Regional Names and Terms.

Yikes! It's a good story but Ramapo is continually mispronounced. It's pronounced Ram-a-po not Rama-po!

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Eye Opening

Overall, an excellent book. A lifelong NYer I have been very familiar with the NYC water system, or so I thought. The fights and loss of homes and whole communities, environmental issues...wow. Only issue I had was with all the mispronounced names! Irked me the whole time...in NYC, Koch rhymes with scotch! Great book though.

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Interesting book

This was an interesting listen, and has a great deal of information on the more recent history. I wish there was more on the earlier periods. I would also have liked to learn more about comparisons with other municipal water systems. It's still very worthwhile.