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Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious…

Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

by Marq de Villiers

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Every four months, I participate in one or more university-sponsored, Osher Lifelong Learning In Retirement (OLLI) discussion groups. Each deals with an important contemporary world issue. For the coming Fall 2008 trimester, I've signed up for the course Water and the Politics of Water, and our textbook is Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marq de Villiers. We are supposed to read and discuss the book slowly over the course of eight two-hour-long discussions. That was the plan…but as soon as the book arrived, I started reading it and couldn't put it down! The course won't begin for another two weeks, but I've already devoured the entire book. I don't know when I have ever come across such a compelling and captivating work of popular nonfiction! For the purpose of our discussion group, I cannot think of a better starting-off point.

The book provides an outstanding introduction to a critical contemporary concern. Each chapter focuses on a set of related issues. Taken by themselves, each of these could serve as the basis for thousands of detailed academic articles and books. It is a testament to the author's enormous skill that he was able to condense each set of issues down to a manageable summary, and give these topics just the right balance of fact and human-interest stories to make a page-turning work of can't-put-it-down nonfiction.

Since I was reading the book for a future discussion group, I read it pen-in-hand, liberally highlighting the text and writing notes to myself in the margins. The most frequent note I wrote was: "Needs update!" Typically, before each discussion, participants research the issues in order to bring new and updated material to the forefront. This book is an excellent catalyst for sparking interest for further research. The book was first published in 1999 and republished in a revised and updated version in 2003. Even with the revised version, most of the issues still require significant updating some five years later. Accomplishing this research on the Internet is easy; of course, there is also an overwhelming amount of popular, academic, and technical information available on these issues in public and academic libraries.

Don't get the impression that this book is out-of-date. The emerging water crisis is one of those "slow emergencies" that’s happening just outside our range of day-to-day human perception. The vast majority of the damage has been accomplished in the past 100 years—an infinitesimally tiny length of time for any geological process, yet on our human perception scale, still profoundly slow…so slow that many people still do not know that a problem even exists.

The book is a real eye-opener, and a first-rate springboard for discussion groups. I recommend it highly. ( )
2 vote msbaba | Aug 20, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618127445, Paperback)

Water is a curious thing, observed the economist Adam Smith: although it is vital to life, it costs almost nothing, whereas diamonds, which are useless for survival, cost a fortune. In Water, Canadian journalist de Villiers says the resource is still undervalued, but it is becoming more precious. It's not that the world is running out of water, he adds, but that "it's running out in places where it's needed most."

De Villiers examines the checkered history of humankind's management of water--which, he hastens to remind us, is not a renewable resource in many parts of the world. One of them is the Nile River region, burdened by overpopulation. Another is the Sahara, where Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi is pressing an ambitious, and potentially environmentally disastrous, campaign to mine deep underground aquifers to make the desert green. Another is northern China, where the damaging effects of irrigation have destroyed once-mighty rivers, and the Aral Sea of Central Asia, which was killed within a human lifetime. And still another is the American Southwest, where crops more fitting to a jungle than a dry land are nursed. De Villiers travels to all these places, reporting on what he sees and delivering news that is rarely good.

De Villiers has a keen eye for detail and a solid command of the scientific literature on which his argument is based. He's also a fine storyteller, and his wide-ranging book makes a useful companion to Marc Reisner's classic Cadillac Desert and other works that call our attention to a globally abused--and vital--resource. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

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Examines how water has been used to create and destroy civilizations throughout history and discusses the problems that could arise in the future if the world's water supply isn't protected.

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