Water is a relatively recent book by Steven Solomon that looks at the history of human civilization as it relates to water scarcity, water technologies and the presence of natural navigable waters and irrigation systems.
If you have read Longitude, or Salt, or Cod, all great history books that were published relatively recently, you know about this cool style of history writing that uses one concept or resource as a focus or lens through which to tell the history of human civilization. #water is the same sort of book. I’ve read an earlier book, I think from the 70’s, that talked about the history of humanity’s civilizations and our relations with waterways, but Solomon’s book is more general. He is looking at how availability and lack of water, reliability of it, and the shapes it comes in determine how our various societies developed. He argues that underlying almost all of human history is a causal link to water, whether drought or floods, or new technologies for using water for transportation or power or better irrigation.
I really liked Solomon’s book, and highly recommend it. My only complaint is that he jumps around a bit too much. I remember from reading Salt and Longitude, that they both told more coherent stories, and they drew you in so that you could be immersed in the stories, all the while you were also soaking up the information they were telling you.
Solomon provides a lot of really great information, but he jumps right into comparisons and contrasts between societies too much, too soon. I have had several semesters of college coursework on Chinese history and many years of readings related to the other regions he talked about, but I still found his style too abrupt, too academic and not inviting enough. His writing is clear, and still very good, but it has not drawn me in the way other, outwardly similar books did.
So, on a 5 point scale I’d give this book a 4.5, not a perfect score, but still very good. If you like history and world cultures, this is a great book for you.