A Good Yarn

Published August 1, 2002

a review of

Water Wars:
Drought, Flood, Folly and the Politics of Thirst

Riverhead Books – August 2002
by Diane Raines Ward

Water Wars is a horribly titled, terribly promoted, miserably quoted, wonderful book.

I do not know Diane Raines Ward, but I suspect she is a solid journalist with a great thirst for knowledge both broad and deep. She spent 10 years circling the globe to beautifully describe many of the world’s most fascinating water development problems and projects and the people who master-minded—and mismanaged—them. She writes with the splendid insight of an historian about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, Holland, Ethiopia, and of course the United States, and many more countries to boot.

She tells each story with clarity and care describing the people, the problem, and the solution for many of the world’s citizens without adequate water or water power.

Ward tells the fascinating story of Holland’s battle to hold out the sea and increase its land area and water supplies, all through the clean eyes of Dutch water expert Peter Huisman. She describes the British Empire’s many water structures across their once great empire through the eyes of William Willcock, who was knighted for his service to the crown and its colonies in water development.

In the United States, Ward briefly describes a number of relatively well-known water projects previously documented by Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, but she shines brightest when she details the story of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the brilliant role David Lilienthal, TVA’s early chairman, played.

The books suffers, however, from the fact she extracted information from more than one hundred people, and their contributions are often poorly edited for fairness and accuracy. Her views on global warming have the depth of standard environment scare press releases. The book’s sometimes-distorted view of future water wars is colored by those with a vested interest in beating that drum.

It is a well-documented fact that, in many centuries’ worth of disputes over water, there have been no wars. If in fact the past is prologue to the future, there will be none. Sadly, publisher Riverhead Books and its publicist have chosen to sensationalize minor aspects of the book to develop sales. Even the chapter titles are sensationally worded rather than usefully defined. The book lacks subheadings, which could have greatly aided the reader.

In spite of these failings, if history and water are your bent and you enjoy a good yarn spun by a thoughtful writer, this book is a pleasant and informative read.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. is science director for The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

Water Wars will be published on August 15, 2002. It can be ordered in advance for $17.47 through Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1573222291/theheartlandinst