Reviewing “Drinking Water: A History” by James Salzman

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Over the course of one week, I methodically annotated each of the 258 pages with a complicated personal system of underlines, squiggles, stars, and boxes reserved for my most engaging books.

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It’s my conviction that the fundamental basics of human life provide the biggest challenges and opportunities to addressing the grand visions of justice we aspire to. The path towards social, environmental, and economic justice requires a critical emphasis on healthy food, reliable shelter, clean air, and safe water.

But the short and simple subtitle is what differentiates this book in the face of other contemporary conversations around water — History.

Effective solutions to contemporary challenges must take into account the unique forces at play throughout human civilization. After all, the same fundamental challenges of drinking water have existed since before the Roman empire.

To Salzman, this means understanding water as a multifaceted resource. Water has always had and significance. Overlooking any one of these factors can sabotage any attempt to make real progress.

To get a sense of this comprehensive range, just check out the chapter titles:

Although the book was published in 2012 (and its age occasionally shows), Salzman’s words remain profoundly relevant, ultimately pointing the reader back to the massive challenges currently facing wealthy and poor countries alike.

The last chapter, “Finding Water for the Twenty-first Century” even looks to the future, and it does so with optimism. Salzman honestly explores a wide variety of potential solutions — embracing their promise, but never shying away from drawbacks and cautionary tales.

On every page — without fail — Drinking Water: A History provides a comprehensive, balanced, and detailed perspective to a fundamentally overlooked topic. If you’re anything like me, you should read this book. You won’t be disappointed.

Originally published at on April 22, 2020.

Recent college grad with a love for writing and diving headfirst into new and exciting subjects.

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