Water, Water

Asa Briggs

  • The Conquest of Water: The Advent of Health in the Industrial Age by Jean-Pierre Goubert
    Polity, 300 pp, £25.00, April 1989, ISBN 0 7456 0508 7

Water is news in Thatcherite Britain in a way that would have surprised politicians – or economists – a generation ago. In some parts of the world, like California or Colorado, water has always been politics – bitter, tough, even violent politics. On a global scale we divide the world into arid and non-arid zones and probe the oceans. Some of our greatest engineering projects in every generation, back to the ancient world, have been concerned with the movement and control of water. Steam-engines were used to pump water out of mines before they, were used to drive machines. It is arguable whether the best treatises on water since the 18th century have been written by engineers or by doctors. Chemists have been almost as active. It was a landmark when Lavoisier described water as H2O.

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