Book Review: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

If you haven’t read the comments from my previous post, Water On the Brain, please do so. I mentioned Charles Fishman’s book, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (paid link), (check your local independent bookstore). Mr. Fishman found the blog, and wrote a very nice comment!

He also asked me to consider writing a review of the book. Since, as long time readers know, I occasionally review pertinent media, here’s a bit more about The Big Thirst.

Book cover: The Big Thirst


The Big Thirst encourages readers to think about water differently than most of us do. Even I, one who spends a lot of time thinking about water, found a lot of new information, and refreshing perspectives.
Mr. Fishman thankfully did not set out to write everything there is to say about water. If he had, he’d still be writing, and we’d never see the end product. Even so, he manages to offer a wide ranging overview of how we use and abuse water in contemporary society. Some of it I found reassuring; much I found shocking.
What I liked the most about the book was the author’s critical thought on the issues addressed. I, like many others, tend to assess a situation briefly before passing judgement on it based on my own personal knowledge and experience, plus whatever limited information I glean from the situation itself. Throughout the book, Mr. Fishman takes the surface appearance further, forcing a better understanding of the complexity of water usage, and societal relations in general. For instance, he reveals the hard work behind maintaining Las Vegas’s impression of opulent, seemingly excessive water usage, while ensuring and improving conservation of a precious resource in that desert metropolis. The frustrating story of promoting gray water recycling in a moisture-starved Australian town shows just how easily our perceptions often hinder solutions.
Perhaps most eye-opening for me were the author’s comments on the local effect of water conservation. Fishman points out that saving water in one locality can’t save it for any other part of the world—any water husbandry effort only effects the local water supply. This puts a new spin on “think globally, act locally.” It also seems to encourage water conservation by the “what’s in it for me?” crowd as well as the ecologically minded.

The Big Thirst also hit home personally in an explanation of why drinking more water won’t give one better skin! Readers may remember my post, Toast Your Good Health with Plain Water, in which I discuss drinking adequate amounts of water. I make several health claims, somewhat backed up by data, but mostly from my own perception. I may have to edit that to reflect the author’s more well researched information on the topic!

Often, if I find myself agreeing with an author, I consult or Goodreads reviews. I do this to look for counter arguments that make sense, to check my perceptions against others’. Occasionally it proves worthwhile.
Ironically, one repeated criticism of The Big Thirst addresses a feature I found particularly helpful! Several reviewers complained about repetitions within the book. Some saw it as padding to thicken an otherwise thin volume.
I often find that, when faced with references to a topic, person, or situation previously discussed in a book, I have to flip back to remind myself of context. Since I “read” audio books whenever possible (see Voices in My Head) I find repetition helpful, because “paging” back becomes rather problematic on audio! Particularly in a non-fiction work such as The Big Thirst that endeavors to educate the reader, repetition  helps improve retention of the information.
Others apparently share my opinion that The Big Thirst is an extremely important book, one that should be read by a wide audience. One Amazon reviewer complained that he’d been required to read it for a class, and hated it for that reason. What’s that old saying? “You can lead a horse to water . . . ?”
Water is life. We should all learn more about it. If you want to do so in an engaging, entertaining way, read Charles Fishman’s The Big Thirst.
(As I publish this post, Hurricane Harvey wreaks havoc on Southeast Texas, bringing storm surges and unimaginable amounts of rainfall! There’s no irony here—The Big Thirst seems apropos, as water effects us both in its scarcity and overabundance. We urge you to give generously to storm relief efforts if possible!)
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