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Publisher's Summary

The Great Lakes - Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior - hold 20 percent of the world's supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan's engaging portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.

For thousands of years, the pristine Great Lakes were separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the roaring Niagara Falls and from the Mississippi River basin by a "subcontinental divide". Beginning in the late 1800s, these barriers were circumvented to attract oceangoing freighters from the Atlantic and to allow Chicago's sewage to float out to the Mississippi. These were engineering marvels in their time - and the changes in Chicago arrested a deadly cycle of waterborne illnesses - but they have had horrendous unforeseen consequences. Egan provides a chilling account of how sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels, and other invaders have made their way into the lakes, decimating native species and largely destroying the age-old ecosystem. And because the lakes are no longer isolated, the invaders now threaten water intake pipes, hydroelectric dams, and other infrastructure across the country.

Egan also explores why outbreaks of toxic algae stemming from the overapplication of farm fertilizer have left massive biological "dead zones" that threaten the supply of fresh water. He examines fluctuations in the levels of the lakes caused by manmade climate change and overzealous dredging of shipping channels. And he reports on the chronic threats to siphon off Great Lakes water to slake drier regions of America or to be sold abroad.

In an age when dire problems like the Flint water crisis or the California drought bring ever more attention to the indispensability of safe, clean, easily available water, The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes is a powerful paean to what is arguably our most precious resource, an urgent examination of what threatens it, and a convincing call to arms about the relatively simple things we need to do to protect it.

©2017 Dan Egan (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Jason Culp narrates this epic tale of human arrogance, unintended consequences, and environmental degradation.... Culp's pace his consistent, and his narration exceptionally clear.... A great audiobook for anyone interested in environmental issues anywhere." ( AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great story of the Great Lakes!

A well written classic tale of man versus nature can be found in this fascinating history of man's domination over the Great Lakes. I grew up next to the Great Lakes and heard the amazing fish stories of the past, but I never knew the depth of the well-intentioned but tumultuous history of our attempts to commandeer the Great Lakes.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jrvito
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • 04-04-17

Environmentally Alarming & Encouraging

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Anyone who supports organizations concerned about the environment will definitely enjoy this read. It does a great job of highlighting the challenges/achievements of Federal (eg EPA) versus State/local (eg State Fish & Wildlife) ...

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

In news now are discussions of cutting the EPA and in some cases Great Lakes related programs. What's most interesting is when you hear about the goal of these organizations your first reaction is how can you cut that? After listening to this book, in some ways, perhaps more focused funding isn't a bad thing ... some of the greatest ecological wins specific to the Great Lakes had nothing to do with EPA/Federal Programs ... it had to do with passionate/committed individuals who accomplished far more with less

Have you listened to any of Jason Culp’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Could you see The Death and Life of the Great Lakes being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

Documentary by Ken Burn's for sure

Any additional comments?

Think the book could have skipped the "state line" passages and effects on water in other states and kept focus to evasive species and Great Lakes

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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very educating

This book gives a detailed account of how "man" tries to correct what "man" has messed up - in this case, regarding the Great Lakes. it seems to be a never ending process.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Required reading for water lovers

This is excellent book. Well told and accessible for lay reader. A bit like a mystery too. It’s very relevant as it speaks to all our current and future water woes.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

great book

Being a captain on the lake this book was full of information i didnt know.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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informative

learned much about our endangered water supply, shipping industry, fish. Hsve enjoyed all the books I've read by this author. He teaches history without the dryness of nonfiction.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • STAMFORD, CT, United States
  • 01-12-18

Those Beautiful Lakes

Dan Egan notes at the end of this absorbing study that those who love the Great Lakes often cherish early memories of fishing on one of the lakes. As someone who grew up in Buffalo, I remember a lot more than the good fishing on Lake Erie. I remember swimming in water that was clear and cool when I was a kid, then filled with muck and scary as I got older. I remember storms on the lake, when the water rose to wash over the beaches. I remember the occasional great blue heron, which brought us tiptoeing down to the water to look more closely.

The lakes have suffered greatly in the last 50 years, and Egan carefully follows one ecological disaster after another—first the lampreys, then the alewives, then the mussels. The book focuses on the damage wrought by invasive species, not industrial pollution. Egan returns again and again to the dangers of international freighters bringing contaminated ballast water down the St. Lawrence Seaway to the lakes, often with creatures from places like the Black Sea or Caspian Sea. But he also discusses the problems with intentionally introduced species, like chinook salmon that were imported as better catches for sport fishers, because the salmon fought harder than native fish.

Egan sometimes shifts to parallel problems in lakes and rivers around the world, and he brings a wide view of the consequences of weak regulation of our fresh water supplies. But he also brings hope, noting recent successes in bringing back native species in some of the lakes.

This was a thoughtful, factual book of interest to anyone who cares about fishing, natural beauty, our water supply and our health.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Majestic book!

This book is wonderfully written and thoroughly researched. It educates and entertains on a wide variety of lake, fish, weather, sustainability, politics, and ecology-related topics.

I give it my highest recommendation.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book

very good book about the Great Lakes. If you love The Great Lakes especially Lake Michigan you need to read this book. narration is very good.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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very informative and detailed

this was a wonderful book, probably much more interesting for those who know about fishing, but an important book for everyone who cares about the great lakes

1 of 1 people found this review helpful