Writ in Water by Nina Selbst
Reviewed by Pnina Moed Kass
Last year planetary scientists had confirmation of their hypothesis that the slopes of Hale crater on Mars showed signs of liquid water. This search for water on the Red Planet has taken more than 15 years until evidence was found. But the life giving power of water has a Biblical resonance – I will stand before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. (Exodus 17:6)
History, geography, art, nation-building - there is no area of human activity linked to water that the author of this lucid and fascinating book has not delved into. Her credentials for this thoroughly enjoyable water journey are "anchored" to more than thirty years as a manager of Israel's water resources and economic adviser to the Water Commissioner.
This is by no means a narrow academic examination of water resources in the Middle East. Selbst's panoramic view includes the American West from the early pioneers to the period of dam building, the birth of Rome and its tradition of water management, the esoteric topic of Paris' sewer water, the culture of bathing, the legal issues surrounding water – this book is a veritable treasure of insights and information. The author has thought to enliven the pages with maps, photographs and paintings. Her text is dotted with a wide variety of quotations – one page has the poetry of Ibn Gvirol, Shelley and Thoreau.
The author continually whets the intellectual imagination of the reader: "Rivers make their way from source to sea following the dictates of geology and topography and climate. People settle their banks to take advantage of the bounty they have to offer – food and water and transport . . . in the manner of the human species, they begin to shape nature to their needs. . . more and more audaciously."