Writ in Water

| January 13, 2016


Writ in Water

This book is a report on a journey of discovery

Most of my working life was spent as an economist and civil servant in the field of water management. When, on retirement, I was freed from dealing with work-a-day problems, I set off on a private search for a rather broader perspective on the human experience and quite naturally started out from the familiar. I have wandered far and wide on a meandering journey, like that of water itself. I have explored the interface between humankind and this deceptively bland, colorless, tasteless and odorless substance. I have delved into creation myths; looked at the emergence of civilizations and their decay; pondered the place of water in the human psyche, as expressed in art and poetry and folklore; considered its role as a factor of production, a source of energy, a conduit of transportation and a consumer good. In passing, my attention has been caught by wishing wells and water closets, changing concepts of physical and spiritual cleanliness, and a miscellany of comic and curious trivia. And I have turned to the natural sciences in search of answers to the question why this one simple substance should have such an all-pervading influence on our lives.

The book has no pretensions to being an academic work. Lacking the tools to deal more than superficially with most of the subjects touched upon, I turned to the insights and scholarship of others for help. This will be abundantly clear to anyone glancing at the quotations that grace the text, or browsing through the bibliography and endnotes. I have done my best fully to acknowledge my indebtedness to others and if I have failed anywhere I take this opportunity of apologizing most sincerely. Errors of interpretation are of course entirely my own.

In summary, this is a monothematic essay, a look at the world through one lens”” the rippling, complex lens of water. One can catch glimpses of other perspectives on the human story, with emphasis on economics, politics, religion, ideologies, cataclysms and so on. While these have added color to my central topic, they have not diverted me from it.

The one claim this essay may have to merit or originality is that it highlights and illuminates the amazing variety and diversity of the interactions between water and humanity. Perhaps it may contribute a little to restoring a sense of wonder at this elixir of life in the exploding number of city dwellers, who give it scant attention as long as it flows from their taps; and to a heightened caution in harnessing it for short-term material benefits, with cavalier disregard for the unpredictable consequences for generations to come.

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