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




I shared a bottle of water with a dinosaur… at a safe distance.


The water coming out of your tap is four billion years old and might have been slurped by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. We will always have exactly as much water on Earth as we have ever had. Water cannot be destroyed, and it can always be made clean enough for drinking again. In fact, water can be made so clean that it actually becomes toxic.

As Charles Fishman brings vibrantly to life in this delightful narrative excursion, water runs our world in a host of awe-inspiring ways, which is both the promise and the peril of our unexplored connections to it. Taking listeners from the wet moons of Saturn to the water-obsessed hotels of Las Vegas, and from a rice farm in the Australian outback to a glimpse into giant vats of soup at Campbell’s largest factory, he reveals that our relationship to water is conflicted and irrational, neglected and mismanaged. Whether we will face a water scarcity crisis has little to do with water and everything to do with how we think about water—how we use it, connect with it, and understand it.

Portraying and explaining both the dangers—in 2008, Atlanta came just ninety days from running completely out of drinking water—and the opportunities, such as advances in rainwater harvesting and businesses that are making huge breakthroughs in water productivity, The Big Thirst will forever change the way we think about water, our crucial relationship to it, and the creativity we can bring to ensuring we always have plenty of it.

©2011 Charles Fishman (P)2011 Tantor


In ‘The Big Thirst’ author Charles Fishman (The Wal-Mart Effect) argues that a change is taking place and most of us don’t even know it. Fishman argues that we are transitioning out of the Golden Age of water that has lasted for roughly a century and transitioning into an age of smart water.
The Golden Age of water is when so many of us take water for granted. Turn on the tap and water comes out. Flush the toilet and the tank fills up again. Turn on the sprinklers or wash the car and have plenty of water at your disposal. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the over 1 billion people who do not have access to clean drinkable water.
The smart era of water is knowing when to use the right water for the right purpose. For example, do we really need to flush 1.6 gallons of water clean enough to drink down the toilet? If you read ‘The Big Thirst’, it will be hard to argue that we can’t be using our water in more efficient and logical ways.
In order to make his case, Fishman takes us all over the world to help define our relationship to water. We go from the Vegas Strip to a rice farm in Australia and from the big city of Atlanta to tiny villages in India to see how water or the absence of water shapes the lives of all of us.
Fishman also addresses some of our stranger behavior as it relates to water. No behavior is stranger than the amount of money we spend on bottled water when tap water is available for cheaper, more convenient, and is subject to higher regulatory standards for safety.
In a way, Fishman attempts to put our relationship to water into the same type of context he framed our relationship to Wal-Mart in his previous book. There are a lot of fascinating tales throughout the book that demonstrate that our relationship to water is not always a rational one.
But Fishman argues that it is becoming a necessity that we make our relationship with water more rational. Factors such as climate change and an increased population mean that our sources of water will be spread thinner and thinner. The fact that water cannot be created or destroyed means that what we have on Earth is what we have, and what was plenty for one billion people is getting stretched thin for seven billion. This is why we must not only change the way we use water in our daily lives, but in order to do that we must first change our attitude towards water itself.


It is safe to say at this point that any book that Charles Fishman writes is a book that I will read. His writing style has not changed all that much from ‘The Wal-Mart Effect, and to me that is a good thing. Fishman always does his best to take very large numbers that are hard to imagine and frame them in a way that while still difficult to comprehend is at least more manageable.
While he does tend to hit some points repeatedly throughout the text, he has a way with words that makes it feel less repetitive.


Stephen Hoye turns in one of those workman-like performances that is neither memorably good or memorably bad. He doesn’t employ any kind of accents in the text, even when such accents wouldn’t feel out of place given who is speaking. I don’t know enough to speculate on whether this might be because he doesn’t do accents all that well, but if that’s the truth, then I understand. Better no Australian accent than a bad Australian accent.
Still, there is more to a performance than being able to put on an accent when it is called for in the text. The delivery is smooth throughout and very easy to listen to as well. Hoye reads at a good pace, not so slow that you’d wish he’d speed up but not so fast that you feel like you’re missing something trying to catch your brain up to his words.


The Tantor Digital Download comes in 10 parts with each part matching up to a chapter in the book. Using the iBooks app on my iPad, I never had a problem getting back to a certain spot if I fell asleep before being able to pause the book.
Standard release from Tantor. There is no music at any point in the book, including the beginning and ending. There are also no sound effects to be heard.
There were a few instances on the track where I thought the audio changed somewhat. At times it sounded almost like an echo had been added. It was rare, perhaps once or twice in the whole book, and it only lasted for a couple of minutes. I doubt it would even be noticed by someone casually listening to the book, but it is definitely not my imagination, as I replayed the parts more than once.


When you read ‘The Big Thirst’, you will come to understand one thing above all else. You will come away with a better understanding of our relationship with water and also realize that there is still a lot you don’t know. The fact that there is still more that we don’t know is not a shortcoming of this book. Water and everything surrounding it is not a simple topic, and there will be things you don’t know because there are things that very few people, if anyone, really know.
‘The Big Thirst’ shines a light on a subject that so many people don’t give much thought to. When you water your lawn, do you know how much water you’re using? After reading ‘The Big Thirst’, you may not be able to answer that question any better, but it is a question you’re far more likely to consider.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water Charles Fishman Stephen Hoye Tantor Audio Science and Technology 04/12/2011 13 hours, 30 minutes 8.75/10


A copy of ‘THE BIG THIRST: THE SECRET LIFE AND TURBULENT FUTURE OF WATER’ was purchased from for review.