Water is the ultimate renewable resource — which is why we are running out. Because it falls from the sky, constantly replenished and cleansed in a cycle of evaporation and precipitation, we regard it as free, a gift from God. It is never truly owned or consumed, only borrowed from nature. And so we squander it and defile it. Until, as we are increasingly finding, it is not there when we want it.
These three books, in their different ways, each chart this conundrum. “The Ripple Effect” is a lively environmental tract about dirty water, drought and water politics in the United States. “The Big Thirst” is a journalistic journey taking in the secret life of water from the wet moons of Saturn to the soup vats at Campbell’s. “Elixir” is a cultural history of water by an anthropologist.