- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
Ships in 1 to 3 days
More copies of this ISBN
Elixir: A History of Water and Humankindby Brian M Fagan
Synopses & Reviews
Elixir: A Human History of Water spans 5,000 years, from the beginnings of civilization to the parched American Sun Belt of today. It is a story of human endeavor: our present-day interaction with this most essential resource has deep roots in the remote past, and every human culture has been shaped by its relationship to water.
For the earliest hunter-gatherers, knowing where to find water was a matter of life and death; the "songlines" of Australia's Aborigines define the whole landscape as a map of sacred water sources. In many agricultural societies, from Africa to the rice fields of Bali, a communal "water philosophy" surrounds the precious resource with social traditions that preserve fair access for people upstream and down.
The sweeping narrative moves from the Greeks and Romans, whose mighty acqueducts still water modern cities, to China, where emperors marshaled armies of laborers in a centuries-long struggle, still ongoing today, to tame the country's powerful rivers. Medieval Europe, and then the Industrial Revolution, brought ingenious new solutions to water management--but for the first time, turned water into a commodity to be bought, sold, and exploited rather than a natural force to be worshiped and husbanded. By the twentieth century, technology allowed the American desert to sparkle with swimming pools and lush golf courses--with little regard for sustainability.
With his customary elegance and peerless scholarship, Fagan illustrates that the past teaches us that technologies for solving one or another water problem are not enough. From a practical standpoint, we still live at the mercy of the natural world. To solve the water crises of the future we may need to adapt the water ethos of our ancestors.
"Five thousand years of rising and falling civilizations flow through Fagan's sweeping survey of man's ability to harness water. From the stirrings of agricultural settlements in the Euphrates Valley to the canny manipulation that sent the Owens River's flow to a tiny California town called Los Angeles at the start of the 20th century, Fagan (The Great Warming), an archeologist, digs down into our relationship to water sources, pointing out that 'water is capricious and powerful, far more masterful than the humans and animals that depend on it.' However, this survey veers unevenly, offering vivid descriptions of the hazards of channeling water in prehistoric northern Iraq, of water distribution in traditional Balinese governance structures, of Middle Eastern irrigation engineering that becomes mired in measurements and dimensions. Fagan prompts an appreciation of water's centrality to civilization and of human ingenuity, but his topic is so broad and his treatment so dry that his conclusion — a call for a profound realignment of an increasingly urban world with its dwindling water supplies — lacks the impact it deserves. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
Fagan (emeritus, anthropology, U. of California-Santa Barbara) continues his string of popular book on various dimensions of the interplay between human culture and the natural world by exploring human relationships with water in the past. As far as he knows, this is the first such study on a global scale. His themes are canals, furrows, and rice paddies; waters from afar; cisterns and monsoons; ancient American hydrologists; and gravity and beyond. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In Elixir, New York Times bestselling author Brian Fagan tells the story of our most vital resource and how it has shaped our history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the parched present of the Sunbelt. Fagan relates how every human society has been shaped by its relationship to our most essential resource. This sweeping narrative moves across the world, from ancient Greece and Rome, whose mighty aqueducts still supply modern cities, to China, where emperors marshaled armies of laborers in a centuries-long struggle to tame powerful rivers. As the earths population approaches nine billion and ancient aquifers run dry, we once again remember the importance of this vital resource. To solve the water crises of the future, we may need to adapt the water ethos of our ancestors, captured here in rich detail by Brian Fagan.
Elixir spans five millennia, from ancient Mesopotamia to the parched present of the Sun Belt. As Brian Fagan shows, every human society has been shaped by its relationship toour most essential resource. Fagan's sweeping narrative moves across the world, from ancient Greece and Rome, whose mighty aqueducts still supply modern cities, to China, where emperors marshaled armies of laborers in a centuries-long struggle to tame powerful rivers. He sets out three ages of water: In the first age, lasting thousands of years, water was scarce or at best unpredictable-so precious that it became sacred in almost every culture.
By the time of the Industrial Revolution, human ingenuity had made water flow even in the most arid landscapes.This was the second age: water was no longer a mystical force to be worshipped and husbanded, but a commodity to be exploited. The American desert glittered with swimming pools- with little regard for sustainability. Today, we are entering a third age of water: As the earth's population approaches nine billion and ancient aquifers run dry,we will have to learn once again to show humility, even reverence, for this vital liquid. To solve the water crises of the future, we may need to adapt the water ethos of our ancestors.
About the Author
Brian Fagan is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Cro-Magnon, the New York Times bestseller The Great Warming, and many other books, including Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting and the Discovery of the New World and several books on climate history, including The Little Ice Age and The Long Summer.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like
Engineering » Environmental Engineering » Water Supply