Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Water Resources and Water Conservation

The world’s supply of clean fresh water is steadily decreasing as water is used at a faster rate than it can be replenished by rainfall or snowmelt . . . learn more about Water Resources and Water Conservation»

The books recommended in this section highlight the challenge of diminishing water resources  that is facing us as we move into the 21st century. They address issues of water pollution, water quality and water scarcity and offer proposals and guidance for using our Earth’s water wisely.

Recommended Books on Water Resources and Water Conservation

The Atlas of Water
Short List of Best Recommended Nature and Environmental Books

The Atlas of Water, Second Edition: Mapping the World's Most Critical Resource
Maggie Black and Jannet King

Climate change and an exponential population explosion threaten the world's supply of fresh water, edging us closer to a global water crisis, with dire implications for agriculture, the economy, the environment, and human health. Completely revised and updated since its first edition, The Atlas of Water is a compelling visual guide to the state of this life-sustaining resource. Using vivid graphics, maps, and charts, it explores the complex human interaction with water over time and across the world. 2009, University of California Press

The Big Thirst
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water
Charles Fishman

For the past 100 years, the developed world has enjoyed a cheap, safe, and abundant water supply, but Fishman warns that that is about to change. In an engrossing, globe-trotting narrative, he introduces the reader to people already grappling with water shortages—Patricia Mulroy, Las Vegas's no-nonsense water czar known as the best water manager in the country; the inhabitants of a neighborhood in Delhi who line up twice a day for water they must carry home. Since water cannot be created or destroyed, the challenge we face is not so much about water scarcity but rather how we can use it more equitably and protect it—the meaning of "clean" has a wholly new connotation in an era when we can pollute water in new ways with residues of medicine and plastics. 2011, Free Press

Biology of Freshwater PollutionBiology of Freshwater Pollution
Christopher Mason

This book is a highly-regarded overview of the subject, providing a current summary of the field covering recent research, case studies and examples. Dr. Mason explains the major types of pollution, describing their sources, their impacts on biological systems and water resources, and methods for mitigating impacts. The final chapter looks at water resource management in the 21st century. 2002, Benjamin Cummings

The Blue DeathThe Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
Robert D. Morris

In this engrossing and disquieting book, Dr. Morris raises the alarm about hidden perils in our water. He traces the history of the search for water-borne pathogens from the mid-19th century, when doctors discovered the bacterium that causes cholera - the blue death. He explains that our water supply is far from safe: some pathogens elude conventional filters; others are resistant to chlorine; and chlorinated drinking water may increase the risk of certain cancers. Observing that water industry lobbyists typically resist regulatory efforts, Morris argues persuasively that unless we do more to protect the water we drink, we court disaster. 2007, HarperCollins

BottlemaniaBottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle Over America's Drinking Water
Elizabeth Royte

Royte describes her investigation of one of the greatest marketing coups of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: the bottled water industry has exploded into a $60 billion business. Consumers drink more high-priced designer water than milk or beer and spend billions on brands such as Aquafina and Dasani that are essentially processed municipal water. Royte chronicles the questionable practices of the industry, documents the environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles, and reveals the staggering amount of energy utilized to ship water long distances. 2009, Bloomsbury USA

Cadillac Desert
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Marc Reisner

In this stunning work of history and investigative journalism, Reisner tells the story of conflicts over water policy in the West and the resulting damage to the land, wildlife and Indians. He describes massive irrigation projects, funded by the U.S. government, that have caused many arid areas to bloom: the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles and vast areas of farmland are wholly dependent upon water brought at great cost from long distances. He calls attention to the long-term despoilation of agricultural soil through concentration of salts - the inevitable result of irrigation. A pioneering book that is still immensely valuable.
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist 1986
1993, Penguin

Clean WaterClean Water: an Introduction to Water Quality and Pollution Control
Kenneth M. Vigil

In straightforward language Kenneth Vigil provides a comprehensive introduction to the many scientific, regulatory, and geographic issues associated with water quality and water pollution control. Clean Water explains the basic fundamentals of water chemistry and describes the scientific principles behind water pollution control and the broader approach of addressing water pollution problems through watershed management. 2003, Oregon State University Press

ElixirElixir: A History of Water and Humankind
Brian Fagan

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, 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." 2011, Bloomsbury Press

Every Drop for SaleEvery Drop for Sale: Our Desperate Battle Over Water
Jeffrey Rothfeder

Less than .0008% of the total water on Earth is drinkable, and global consumption of fresh water is doubling every twenty years. Water has become our most precious commodity: a life-sustaining but increasingly rare and privatized resource. In this compelling narrative account of our world in turmoil over water, Rothfeder describes the issues and struggles of the people on all sides of the water crisis: from the survivors of bizarre water-management practices, to those who are willing to die for water to sustain their families and crops, to the scientists and leaders who are trying to set things straight. 2001, Tarcher

Fresh WaterFresh Water
E. C. Pielou

The Earth's water supply is constantly growing, yet humankind is facing a potentially catastrophic shortage of potable water in the next century. "Fresh water," writes Canadian scientist Pielou, "will turn out to be the factor that limits population growth," largely because so much of that supply is locked up in arctic ice or lies deep beneath the surface of the earth. In her thoughtful survey of the physics and chemistry of water, Pielou introduces readers to such concepts as the water cycle, in which rainwater becomes groundwater and eventually returns to the sky from whence it came; examines the economics of water surpluses and deficits in the natural world; and studies the formation and behavior of rivers and lakes. 2000, University of Chicago Press

Freshwater Ecoregions of North AmericaFreshwater Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment
Robin Abell

North America's freshwater habitats and the extraordinary biodiversity they contain are facing unprecedented threats from flow alteration, habitat fragmentation, introduced species, and overall land use changes. This authoritative reference from World Wildlife Fund assesses the current status of freshwater ecoregions and outlines measures that must be taken to conserve and restore native biodiversity. 1999, Island Press

The Great Lakes Water WarsThe Great Lakes Water Wars
Peter Annin

The Great Lakes are the largest collection of fresh surface water on Earth, and more than 40 million Americans and Canadians live in their basin. Will we divert water from the Great Lakes, causing them to end up like Central Asia's Aral Sea, which has lost 90% of its surface area and 75% of its volume since 1960? Peter Annin writes a fast-paced account of the people and stories behind the struggle over unregulated water withdrawals. 2006, Island Press

Killing the Hidden WatersKilling the Hidden Waters
Charles Bowden

First published in 1977, and with a new up-to-date introduction, Bowden warns of the costs and limits of using water as if it is an infinite resource. He drives home the point that years of droughts, rationing, and even water wars have done nothing to slake the insatiable consumption of water in the American West. Killing the Hidden Waters is, according to Edward Abbey, "the best all-around summary I've read yet, anywhere, of how our greed-driven, ever-expanding urban-industrial empire is consuming, wasting, poisoning, and destroying not only the resource basis of its own existence, but also the vital, sustaining basis of life everywhere." 2003, University of Texas Press

Last OasisLast Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity
Sandra Postel

In this book from the Worldwatch Institute, Sandra Postel explains that decades of profligacy and mismanagement of the world's water resources have produced shortages and environmental destruction. She clearly describes the limits - ecological, economic, and political - of this vital natural resource and explores the potential for conflict over water between nations and between urban and rural residents. Last Oasis makes clear that the technologies and know-how exist to increase the productivity of every liter of water - but citizens must insist on policies, laws, and institutions that promote the sustainable use of water. 1997, W. W. Norton

Ogallala BlueOgallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains
William Ashworth

Hidden below the Great Plains lies a vast ocean known as the Ogallala Aquifer. Supporting 14 million acres of crops that represent one-fifth of the country's total agricultural harvest, this primary source of groundwater affects everything from the food we eat to the clothing we wear. Deep enough to fill Lake Erie nine times over, it is immense, but it is not infinite, and this precious aquifer is going dry. Tracing the dramatic history of the aquifer from its Ice Age formation to its current precarious state, Ashworth deftly clarifies and personalizes the critical economic, environmental, and humanitarian issues at stake, forcefully connecting the geology of the planet's past with the ecology of this country's future. 2007, Countryman

Outgrowing the EarthOutgrowing The Earth
Lester R. Brown

The author dramatically details how human demands are outstripping the earth's capacities - and what we need to do about it. Future security, Brown says, depends on raising water productivity, stabilizing climate by moving beyond fossil fuels, and slowing population growth. 2005, W. W. Norton

Pillar of SandPillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last?
Sandra Postel

Pillar of Sand examines the history, challenges, and pitfalls of irrigated agriculture - from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to 20th century India and the U.S. By unmasking the risks faced by irrigation-based societies - including water scarcity, soil salinization, and conflicts over rivers - water specialist Postel connects the lessons of the past with the challenge of making irrigation thrive into the 21st century and beyond. This book points the way toward managing the growing competition for scarce water, and lays out a strategy for bettering the lives of the majority of the world's poorest farmers. 1999, W. W. Norton

The Ripple EffectThe Ripple Effect: The Fate of Fresh Water in the Twenty-First Century
Alex Prud’homme

Freelance journalist Prud’homme offers a comprehensive survey of the debates, feelings and attempted solutions that swirl around the complex issue of freshwater. He educates us about the depletion of aquifers, the role of big business in the race for water, the demands that power generation (coal, nuclear) place on water resources, the effects of agricultural runoff on rivers, oceans and marine life, the process of wastewater treatment, global warming, the fragility of cities , the droughts and floods, dams and salmon, desalination, shrinking reservoirs and our human determination to keep doing what we’re doing until it’s too late to save ourselves. The Ripple Effect offers suggestions for the way ahead. 2011, Scribner

Rivers for LifeRivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature
Sandra Postel and Brian Richter

Postel and Richter explain why restoring and preserving more natural river flows are key to sustaining freshwater biodiversity and healthy river systems, and describe innovative approaches for achieving those goals. They explain the value of healthy rivers to human and ecosystem health; describe the ecological processes that support river ecosystems and how they have been disrupted by dams and diversions; and demonstrate through case studies new and innovative policy approaches to achieve healthy rivers. 2003, Island Press

Rivers of EmpireRivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
Donald Worster

In this impassioned and lyrical book, historian Worster tells the story of how the modern American West is built upon a network of dams, diversions and irrigation canals. Yet the cities and farms, money and power of today's West have come at a high cost. Along with the wealth has come massive ecological damage, a redistribution of power to bureaucratic and economic elites, and a class conflict still on the upswing. As a result, the future of this "hydraulic West" is increasingly uncertain, as water continues to be a scarce resource, inadequate to the demand, and declining in quality. This eloquent and thought-provoking story of the American Empire begins and ends with water. 1992, Oxford University Press

The Secret Knowledge of WaterThe Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert
Craig Childs

In this vivid, hypnotic narrative, naturalist Childs tells of his travels in the deserts of America, in search of random waterholes, rare creeks, waterfalls, springs, shrimp-filled pools and sudden, furious floods. He mingles personal obsrvations with a cosmic perspective: "Most, if not all, water on this planet came from countless small comets thumping against the atmosphere . . . " By turns travelogue, ecological treatise, and meditative essay, Childs' book will speak to anyone who has spent time under desert skies, wondering when the next drop of rain might fall. 2001, Back Bay Books

ThirstThirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water
Alan Snitow, Deborah Kaufman and Michael Fox

Thirst describes the push for the privatization of public water works and the pillaging of the countryside as producers of bottled water play fast and loose with the water tables. The authors spotlight eight communities that have fought back against Big Water, and though each case is unique, there are trends. Water privatization is an expensive proposition, and many water companies are forced to slash costs and raise prices to maximize cash flow and pay down their debt. 2007, Jossey-Bass

Water: A Natural HistoryWater: A Natural History
Alice Outwater

A generation after the Clean Water Act, one third of our waters are still polluted, and only 6% of contamination is caused by industry. Environmental engineer Outwater reaches back into history to chart the changes in our waters. Once, a tenth of the total land area was beaver-built wetland; the beaver's decline caused the first major shift in the nation's water cycle. The depressions buffalo made on the ground and the holes dug by prairie dogs collected rain and runoff that seeped down to the water table; our waterways have been transformed by the loss of these keystone species. Outwater looks at grasslands and forests, artificial waterways, agriculture, aqueducts and toilet bowls, sewers and sludge. She makes a strong case for restoring natural systems to public lands, and repopulating beaver, bison and prairie dogs. 1997, Basic Books

Water and the California DreamWater and the California Dream: Choices for the New Millennium
David Carle

Imported water has transformed the environment of California and its quality of life. In the last 200 years, land ownership patterns have dramatically altered both urban and rural communities. This book argues that the key to this transformation has been access to water from the Eastern Sierra, the Colorado River, and the rivers of northern California. The state's infatuation with limitless growth is coming up against the reality that water is a finite resource. Carle is hopeful that decision-makers can learn from past mistakes, and move towards managing water in a sustainable way. 2003, Sierra Club Books

WaterWater: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Marq de Villiers

A child dies every eight seconds from drinking contaminated water. More than half of the world's rivers are now so polluted that they pose serious health risks. One-third of Africa's people already endure conditions of water scarcity, and water supplies are in jeopardy in China, India, Japan, Spain, southern France, Australia, the southwestern U.S. and many other parts of Asia and Europe. This compelling, highly readable report on the looming global water crisis sounds a wake-up call for concerned citizens, environmentalists and policy-makers. 2001, Mariner Books

Water FolliesWater Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters
Robert Jerome Glennon

In the high plains of Texas, farmers are entitled by law to as much underground water as they want to pump. No matter that this water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, that vast underground reservoir whose levels have dropped precipitously since 1940, threatening to put farmers across seven states out of business. Glennon documents a nationwide failure to responsibly manage underground waters, which are being depleted at an alarming rate. He cites "the tragedy of the commons," the unlimited use by citizens of a common area, leading to depletion. Among his recommendations is an immediate halt to unregulated groundwater pumping and changes in law and public policy to recognize groundwater as a valuable public resource. 2004, Island Press

Water WarsWater Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
Vandana Shiva

While drought and desertification are intensifying around the world, corporations are aggressively converting free-flowing water into bottled profits. Shiva, recipient of the 1993 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (the Right Livelihood Award) outlines the emergence of corporate culture and the historical erosion of communal water rights. Using the international water trade and industrial activities such as damming, mining, and aquafarming as her lens, she exposes the destruction of the Earth and the disenfranchisement of the world's poor as they are stripped of rights to a precious common good. 2002, South End Press

When the Rivers Run DryWhen the Rivers Run Dry: Water - The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century
Fred Pearce

Science journalist Pearce sounds the alarm: a worldwide water shortage is the most fearful looming environmental crisis. The rivers of the world are running dry. As aquifers are tapped to extinction, rivers dammed to depletion, and wetlands converted to deserts, societies continue to employ the profligate water management techniques that created the current dire situation. When the Rivers Run Dry cogently describes the frightening ways in which this ecological emergency is affecting population centers, human health, food production, wildlife habitats, and species viability. Required reading. 2006, Beacon Press

The World's Water 2006-2007The World's Water 2006-2007: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources
Peter Gleick,

The World's Water is the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of information and analysis on freshwater resources and the political, economic, scientific, and technological issues associated with them. It identifies and explains the most significant current trends worldwide. This volume includes overview chapters on water and terrorism; business risks of water; water and ecosystems; floods and droughts; desalination; and environmental justice and water. It contains an updated chronology of global conflicts associated with water. An indispensable reference. 2006, Beacon Press

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