Synopses & Reviews
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 to our 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.
"Eye-opening . . . Making sense of water and its place in the development of civilization . . . [Fagan] understands how the ancients struggled with changing climate and that what matters has always been the fluctuating availability of water, rather than shifting temperatures. That is an important lesson for us now." —Washington Post
"A rewarding survey of waters role in history and contemporary politics alike." —Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the 2013 Felicia A. Holton Book Award, given annually to a writer who, through a major work of non-fiction, represents the importance and excitement of archaeology to the general public, granted by the Archaeological Institute of America "As always with Mr. Fagans work, the range is dazzling, the focus sharp and the pictures vivid...The author holds us with his glittering eye, as he conjures a vision of a world with water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."—Wall Street Journal “Juxtaposes ancient and contemporary cultures veneration of water with the current commodification of it …Fagan is a passionate and lively writer.”—Los Angeles Times "… examines societies relationships with water since ancient times, and describes how the advance of technology has led to unsustainable management and depletion of our most valuable resource."—Chronicle of Higher Education “It is hard to imagine industrial societies regaining some sense of water as sacred. The best we might hope for in the near term is a new-found respect for water. Reading Fagans book is an enjoyable way of gaining that respect, by taking a tour through the hard-won lessons of the past.”—Nature Climate Change “Eye-opening….making sense of water and its place in the development of civilization....[Fagan] understands how the ancients struggled with changing climate and that what matters has always been the fluctuating availability of water, rather than shifting temperatures. That is an important lesson for us now.”—Washington Post
“Supplying intriguing historical background, Fagan well informs those pondering freshwaters role in contemporary environmental problems.”—Booklist
“Important and, from a New York Times best-selling author, accessible to all.”—Library Journal "Fagan prompts an appreciation of water's centrality to civilization and of human ingenuity."—Publishers Weekly "A rewarding survey of waters role in history and contemporary politics alike."—Kirkus “Not just a fascinating book, but also an important one… [a] marvelous history… Don't take water or Elixir for granted. Give this important book a read—and then maybe send a copy to your local representative or senator.”—Mother Nature Network “At a time of increasing threats of regional ‘water wars, Elixir provides crucial temporal depth and worldwide scope to an emerging water scarcity crisis that we can no longer ignore. Fagans detailed examination of past use and abuse of water—highlighted by personal experience—makes his book not only a major source on the subject but, as usual, enjoyable reading.”—R. Gwinn Vivian, curator emeritus of archaeology, Arizona State Museum, author of The Chaco Handbook "[Fagan] is a beguiling writer and his lessons from global experience are both refreshing and sobering."—Daily Express (UK) "A comprehensive look at the history of water control… there are places on the earth today where our water control systems are breaking down, and most of us don't yet recognize how devastating the effects of that will be. Elixir helps that realization… This book is one of the best pop science books I've read in a long time…there is much to reread and contemplate."—About.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.
Other than air, the only substance more vital to life is water. Our bodies brim with it, and if weandrsquo;re deprived of it for even a few days, the results can be fatal. Our planet, too, is mostly water, with oceans across approximately seventy percent of its surface. But potable water has in many times and places been a scarce resource, and with Water
, Ian Miller traces the history of our relationship with drinking waterandmdash;our attempts to find it, keep it clean, and make it widely available.
Millerandrsquo;s history ranges widely, from ancient times to the present, exploring all the many ways that weandrsquo;ve rendered water palatableandmdash;from boiling it for tea or distilling it as part of alcoholic beverages to piping it from springs, bubbles and all. He covers the histories of water treatment and supply, belief in its medicinal powers, and much more, all supported by fascinating historical illustrations. As access to fresh water becomes an ever more potent problem worldwide, Millerandrsquo;s book is a fascinating reminder of our long engagement with this most vital fluid.
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.