Many histories of the world have chronicled civilizations via religion, culture, and the physical environment in which a society creates itself. Steven Solomon has entered his contribution of grand world historical accounts with his new book, “Water”. As may be gleaned from the title, Solomon writes how human civilization has been affected by that most universal of substances, water. How civilizations have utilized it to grow their civilization, have managed it to help them survive, and what they have done when it runs scarce are just some of the ways that Solomon writes about the entwining relationship with this vital substance.

Solomon’s takes an interesting approach to this book. Seeing the title of “Water”, one might assume the book to be a conservation book, a call to arms on how we need to preserve this lifeline in a burgeoning society. The tone of the book is premised more on the book’s subtitle: “The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization”. Instead of a being a polemic in the fashion of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, Solomon has presented a hydrological history of civilization, from ancient Sumer and Egypt to today’s globalized economy. Through much of his writing, water plays almost an understated understudy to the history that Solomon writes about. This five hundred page book covers how Greece and Rome ascended and thrived, how China’s civilization rose and receded back into itself, the clash between Christianity and Islam leading to the Crusades, how the United States rose and the West was won. These stories and many others are told with the vantage point of how each society was able to manipulate the hydrology around it and what it meant for the power each one wielded.

If one is looking for an environmental manifesto, this is not the book you are looking for. But this book is interesting in many ways. From this perspective of history, there are explanations for why some societies succeeded and why others failed. In many ways, this book is similar to geographer Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”. Except in this book, it seems most of the known world of major civilizations are covered. If the continent was utilized for civilization, it was discussed in this book. Solomon believes in sustainability and makes some recommendations to help preserve the water rights for all, but it seems that he has presented this history so that each person can decide what is best to take care of the one substance that is easy to take for granted in the land of Haves, as he calls the water rich, and something that you never can get your mind of if you are the water poor, or the Have Nots. If Solomon’s account is correct, water management is essential not only for individual health or the health of any one nation, but international security and stability.