"In fewer than 250 pages of text, the author discusses a wide range of questions relating to drinking water, including historical ones related to the ways various societies over space and time have attempted to supply it... No matter the topic, Salzman is fair and balanced, never going for easy sound bites, bumper-sticker slogans, or the self-righteous tone too common among environmental activists. And his calm, rational approach is reassuring (the threat of catastrophic terrorist attacks on our water supplies, he writes, shouldn’t worry us unduly)."
The News & Observer, Mar. 30, 2013
"Potable water permeates humanity’s past and is set to dominate its future. The United Nations estimates that by 2030, more than half of us will live in water-scarce areas. Environmental-policy specialist James Salzman goes with the flow in this absorbing chronicle of our complex relationship with H2O."
Nature, Vol. 491 (Nov. 2012), p. 669
"James Salzman’s book is a look at this everyday commodity most of us take for granted and which proves, on further examination, to be far from unremarkable after all... What Salzman lays out is water’s role in shaping human history — as a cultural, social, political and economic resource."
London Evening Standard, Jan. 3, 2013
"James Salzman’s fascinating Drinking Water is an account of how governments throughout history have tried to safeguard public health by delivering clean drinking water. From the building of aquifers to the rise of drinking fountains... Keeping us healthy, it seems, is a never-ending fight full of pitfalls and perils."
Nicholas Blincoe, The Telegraph, Jan. 15, 2013
"[James Salzman has] written a lively, informative and provocative book about the one liquid everyone on Earth drinks, often without a second thought. If there’s nothing in it to make your eyeballs actually pop out, there were several occasions when mine bulged with disbelief - usually at the astonishing amounts of gullibility on show. But then, perhaps it’s no accident that Evian spelled backwards is Naive."
John Preston, The Daily Mail, Jan. 17, 2013
"Salzman's book is full of frightening facts, but it's not designed to scaremonger. Rather, it's a historical investigation into mankind's quest for drinking water; a resource that's causing increasing global tension... [Salzman has] alighted on a subject that concerns us all and his stories are colourful enough to keep you turning the page. By the time you reach the end, you'll be pouring yourself a stiff whisky. Neat. No ice."
Giles Milton, The Mail on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013
"The scope of Salzman's book is impressive, encompassing everything from the construction of Roman aqueducts to subsidised water purification in Zambia."
NewScientist CultureLab blog, Dec. 19, 2012
"Salzman's account of drinking water makes the liquid seem as mythic as the fountain of youth. He explores the engineering, politics and health implications surrounding humans' quest for water, as well as the toxins and changing climate that threaten our supply. The history includes how physician John Snow methodically traced an 1854 cholera outbreak to a single water pump in London, New York City's evolution from a disease-ridden metropolis to one that boasts about its tap water, and the innovative technologies that may avert global water poverty."
Recommended Reading in Scientific American, Nov. 2012
"Salzman’s enunciation and physicality seep through the page. We relate as he clasps his hands and smiles between heavy breaths. He has the ability to tone down the academic thunder while bracing us — genially — for an assault of terrifying facts."
"Certainly, many over the centuries have laboured to reverse this circumstance. The demand for safe water has been a constant, Salzman writes, but what has evolved is our relationship with water, along with societal conceptions of what threatens health and makes water unsafe."
"Salzman is a Duke professor of law and environmental policy and this book represents 6-8 years of his readings on water policies. This depth of experience -- he quotes many cases and examples -- helps him explain the varied history of drinking water. His work on law and policy means that he puts more-than-typical attention onto the various perspectives, allowing him to present a balanced view on most issues."
"In addition to setting forth the history of drinking water clearly enough for a reader with no technical or scientific background, Salzman backs up his material with 50 pages of endnotes. He ends each chapter with a brief essay on questions such as 'Did lead pipes contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire?'; 'Was fluoridation a Communist plot?'; and 'Does dowsing work?' To find out the answers, spend a few enjoyable hours with Salzman’s book."
The Washington Independent Review of Books
"A notable book for 2012... 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."
"Writing in the popular style of world history seen through the lens of a commodity, Duke professor Salzman details the changing approaches that environmentalists, governments, and the open market have taken to this essential of life. Through exploring core questions in water management- whether people have a right to access drinking water, whether it "should be managed as a commodity for sale or a public good," what it means for water to be clean and safe- Salzman lucidly addresses controversial topics, such as the Clean Water Act and what it does and doesn't ensure about the safety of our water supply; risks from arsenic contamination and fracking; the benefits of systemwide versus point of use purification; and whether it helps or hurts communities to sell access to their water sources to private corporations. A special focus on the New York City area brings stories about the slaughterhouse-tainted "Collect," the Tea Water Pump, and the creation of Chase Manhattan Bank under the pretense of privatized water management in the late 1700s, and the building of the massive Croton Reservoir, which was inaugurated in 1842. Finally, Salzman discusses approaches that may define future water use, such as desalinization, investment in infrastructure, and harvesting water from space. Salzman puts a needed spotlight on an often overlooked but critical social, economic, and political resource."
"This surprising, delightful, fact-filled book will help you shine in conversations at dinner tables and cocktail parties. What do Rome's aqueducts, Napoleon's death, and the pilgrimage site of Lourdes have in common? All involve water: the leading ingredient of our bodies, essential for our daily lives, and the subject of innumerable struggles. Why does bottled water, the cheapest and most abundant liquid, sell for more than the same volume of gasoline? Even if you prefer to drink wine - it's mostly water anyway - you'll enjoy this book."
Professor of Geography, UCLA
Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and other best-selling books
"Instead of buying the next dozen bottles of Dasani or Aquafina, buy this fascinating account of all the people who spent their lives making sure you'd have clean, safe drinking water every time you turned on the tap."
Author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"Drinking water takes a fantastic voyage to get to us, and in his book 'Drinking Water: A History,' Jim Salzman takes us on a fantastic voyage to show us the ingenuity and effort that getting water has always required. From Ponce de Leon to Benjamin Franklin, from the engineering of Roman aqueducts to the logistics of iceberg water, "Drinking Water" effortlessly guides us through a fascinating world we never consider. Even for people who think they know water, there is a surprise on almost every page."
Bestselling author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life & Turbulent Future of Water and The Wal-Mart Effect
"Meticulously researched, grandly conceived, and splendidly executed, Drinking Water takes a prosaic subject and makes it endlessly fascinating. Smart, witty, and perceptive, Drinking Water is essential reading for anyone who cares about the availability of, access to, and safety of the water they drink."
Regents' Professor at the University of Arizona
Author of Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It
How rarely does a master of the detailed and abstruse laws affecting water use command the imagination and skill of an accomplished storyteller? Salzman has produced gem of uncommon value--a fascinating book which slips in among its engaging stories their weighty implications for policy.
Books about environmental policy typically scream at the reader: "you will prove your green convictions by slogging through this boring book!" Salzman has broken the mold and produced a book of engrossing stories which make their own case for policies.
William K. Reilly
Former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Former President of the World Wildlife Fund
"Why did it take so long for a writer to understand that environmental history should include drinking water? In fact, it's a fundamental part of the interrelationship of people and nature and a "crunch" resource of the immediate future. James Salzman's blend of science, history and public policy makes for a provocative and important read."
Dr. Roderick Frazier Nash
Professor Emeritus of History and Environmental Studies, University of California Santa Barbara
Author of Wilderness and the American Mind
"Author, author! In his deeply thorough, thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful book, Jim Salzman shows why water security and quality are set to boil to the surface of world's politics."
Author of The Green Consumer's Guide and Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business
Clean drinking water is one of our nation's [or "our planet's"] most precious commodities. This captivating book not only describes how water has been critical to human society throughout history, but provides insights into the pressing challenges we are confronting today -- battles over corporate ownership of water, controversies regarding bottled versus tap water, and the ultimate question of what we can do in the 21st century to insure safe and sufficient water for all.
John H. Adams
Founding Director and Trustee, Natural Resources Defense Council
Recipient of National Medal of Freedom
"Apart from nuclear war, shortage of clean drinking water is the single most important threat facing the well-being of the world's still-exploding population right now. Salzman takes the reader on a fascinating, globe-trotting journey through the history of drinking water. Immensely readable, the book weaves one entertaining story after another to show how we have thought about, valued, protected, and provided this most precious of all liquids. Anyone interested in the central role drinking water has played throughout history and why it matters so much today should read this book."
Paul R. Ehrlich
Professor of Biology, Stanford University
Author of The Population Bomb and The Dominant Animal
"According to a 1999 US Geological Survey study, about 80 percent of streams sampled had been contaminated by pharmaceuticals. In this era of pressing issues such as globalization, social justice, climate change, and terrorism, there needs to be a greater concern for the safety of simple drinking water. From the vulnerability to terrorist attacks to the environmental issues concerning bottled water, Drinking Water highlights the problems humanity has been wrestling with for centuries and provides scientific answers to questions about the safety of the water we rely on."
ForeWord Reviews, Staff Pick "of the best and brightest titles recently published."
"Salzman (Law and Environmental Policy/Duke Univ.) looks at the history of drinking water and how it is connected to a range of global environmental, social and political issues."
"The drinking of water, writes the author, is "one of the few human actions and conditions that are truly universal," and the quest for potable water is intertwined with nearly every aspect of human life. Inspired by popular histories such as Mark Kurlansky's Salt (2002), Salzman presents a broad examination of drinking water through the ages. He examines mythological and religious ideas surrounding drinking water, referencing Ponce de Leon's fabled quest for the Fountain of Youth, the reputedly healing waters at Lourdes in southern France and centuries-old Jewish and Islamic drinking-water laws. The author then embarks on a wide-ranging discussion of water safety, including natural arsenic contamination and terrorist threats to water supplies. Other major subjects include the amazing rise of bottled water and the politics of water access in places such as New York City, McCloud, Calif., and Cochabamba, Bolivia. As might be evident by this description, Salzman covers a lot of ground in this relatively short book, rarely resting very long on one subject before jumping to the next, and he rattles off facts at a rapid-fire pace. With so many areas to cover, it's no surprise that he ends with the perfunctory assertion that "[t]he story of drinking water is still being written." The book is consistently entertaining, however, and Salzman delivers it all in a light, accessible style."
"An appealing, fact-filled overview of the most basic necessity of human life."
Kirkus Book Reviews