• Drinking Water

  • A History
  • By: James Salzman
  • Narrated by: Lee Hahn
  • Length: 7 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 04-12-12
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC
  • 4 out of 5 stars 3.8 (4 ratings)


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
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By GemmaQ on 13-09-17

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!

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Neuron on 16-11-13

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

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29 of 31 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Jean on 02-01-13

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.

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20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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