Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind

Front Cover
Bloomsbury Publishing USA, Jun 14, 2011 - Science - 384 pages
3 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 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.


What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - GlennBell - LibraryThing

Mediocre book. I enjoyed the later portion of the book with respect to the present and future of water. Much of the earlier history was covered in great detail to the point of being boring. I usually ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - mahallett - LibraryThing

a great book, looking at our use of water in many cultures and times. our course our time is hopeless and troublesome. a lot of cultures have moved on from a lack of water. Read full review


Waters from Afar
Aquae Romae
Cisterns and Monsoons
Chinas Sorrow
Ancient American Hydrologists
Triumphs of Gravity
Gravity and Beyond
Lifting Power More Certain than

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2011)

Brian Fagan was born in England and spent several years doing
fieldwork in Africa. He 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

Bibliographic information