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Review: Bottled and Sold by Peter H. Gleick

Review: Bottled and Sold by Peter H. Gleick post image

Title: Bottled and Sold: They Story Behind Out Obsession with Bottled Water
Author: Peter H. Gleick
Genre/Format: Nonfiction (ebook)
Year: 2010
Acquired: From the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Two Sentence Summary: People are afraid of tap water so they buy water in the bottle, but is bottled water actually any better for us? Peter Gleick thinks not.

Two Sentence Review: If you want a balanced look at the water issue, this book will be a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, it’s an informative and engaging look at an issue that impacts all of us.

Why I Read It: A local reporter friend wrote a story on Madison’s water utility, and that got me curious about the debate surrounding bottle and tap water.

Long Review: For my birthday in July, Boyfriend took me to see Mat Kearney in concert. When we got there, he bought two bottles of water from the bar – you can’t carry anything in and we were thirsty. After the opening act, I asked him to go refill them from a drinking fountain. He looked all over, but it turned out there wasn’t a single drinking fountain in the bar.

This isn’t such a strange phenomenon – all over the place, it’s getting harder and harder to get access to free water because many people have shifted to bottled. The crux of Peter H. Gleick’s book Bottle and Sold is to look at this phenomenon and what the ongoing shift to bottled water could mean.

I had a lot of fun facts bookmarked that I wanted to share with you, but I lost them in a small technical glitch (not the nook’s fault, totally mine). So… no fun water facts, just impressions on the book.

Gleick does a good job of covering the water issue from a lot of different angles. Just listing the chapter titles shows that off pretty well. Chapter titles include: The War on Water; Fear of the Tap; Selling Unwholesome Provision; If It’s Called “Arctic Spring Water,” Why Is It from Florida?; The Taste of Water; The Hidden Cost of Convenience; Selling Bottled Water: The Modern Medicine; Drinking Bottled Water; Sin or Salvation?; Revolt: The Growing Campaign Against Bottled Water; Green Water? The Effort to Produce Ethical bottled Water; and The Future of Water.

As you can see, he covers a lot of ground on the water issue, trying to point out the pros and cons of bottled water, which I appreciated. But in the end it’s still pretty clear where Gleick stands on the issue – pro tap water – and the book isn’t especially balanced in later chapters.

When I’m reading a book on a subject for the first time, I like the book to feel like it covers all sides fairly to give me a background. This book doesn’t quite do that, but I think the disappointment is more a problem of my expectations than the book itself.

In general, Gleick does a good job making a potentially dry (ha ha) subject interesting, using a lot of examples and anecdotes to back up the points he makes with had data and statistics. Some of the ways marketers try to differentiate water are pretty hilarious, and Gleick has a fun time poking fun at it.

If you’re at all curious about bottled water versus tap water and the issues that debate brings up, this book could be a good primer on the issue as long as you recognize Gleick’s bias towards the tap.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Iris September 29, 2010, 6:16 am

    I’m never sure where I stand on this issue since tap water is very clean etcetera in the Netherlands and so I buy waterbottles and refill them with tap water. However, there are countries in which I do not drink tap water, such as Southern France, because I know my stomach reacts badly to it. And it is because I don’t know what water in the US is like, I never formed an opinion on the subjects, although I know some people laugh at the use of bottled water over there. I am not sure if this book would resolve my confusion on the matter.

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:04 pm

      Iris: It’s a tricky issue for me to. I’m like you – I try to use a water bottle and use tap water when I can. Most places in the United States are fine, I think, but I’m sure regional differences would make it tough. I don’t know if the book helped me know what was right, but I think it did at least make me feel more educated about the topic.

  • Jeanne September 29, 2010, 6:18 am

    I grew up in a place with horrid-tasting water; we got our water supply from the Mississippi River and inundated it with enough chemicals to make it safe to ingest. So it was only as an adult that I learned to drink water instead of juice or tea or whatever. Now I live in a place with good-tasting water and have developed the habit enough that I appreciate being able to buy water instead of coke when I go out, but wish there were more places I could get it in a cup, like people bring their own bags to a store. I really don’t need all those plastic bottles littering up my purse and car, especially the new kind made to be recyclable, so they’re hard to re-use even once.

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:07 pm

      Jeanne: I agree with you on the plastic bottles. I hate getting so many of them when I’m out. I do my best to bring a bottle with me, or at least try to reuse disposable bottles if I get them. Some places won’t do just cups, which annoys me. I’ve been lucky to live in places with drinkable water most of my life, but didn’t drink a lot of it until recently – I’ve always been a milk person myself.

  • rhapsodyinbooks September 29, 2010, 6:19 am

    I think you’re absolutely right about the dearth of water fountains these days! But I have to agree with Iris that the quality of tap water really varies depending on where you live!

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:10 pm

      rhapsodyinbooks: Quality of tap water is a big thing he tries to address in the book, looking at studies that have found that people can’t tell the difference and the different quality standards for tap versus bottled (tap is actually more stringently regulated than bottled, which is so odd!). But taste is a big deal, and I think tap can be more inconsistent than bottled, which is a big turn off for a lot of people.

  • Amy September 29, 2010, 8:03 am

    Too bad about the bias, especially as I’d be biased the same way so I’d like to at least hear the other side! Sounds interesting though.

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:12 pm

      Amy: I think I’m biased in the same way too, which might be why it was so apparent. Bottled water just seems to wasteful to me.

  • Care September 29, 2010, 8:25 am

    But what about the safety concerns with refilling bottles? and the issue of how long water in bottles can ‘sit’ especially in a hot car? oh the questions… I drink tap water but know a lot of people that don’t like how our town’s water tastes.

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:14 pm

      Care: Yes, those are big questions. He doesn’t get at those in the book, although being able to wash a regular water bottle is one of the things that bug me – my hands are too big, and I don’t have a dishwasher!

  • Andi September 29, 2010, 11:29 am

    Hmm, not sure I could read this one! The whole bottled water thing inflames me a bit. I had an argument with Chuck early on because he wanted to give Greyson only bottled water. REALLY?!

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:15 pm

      Andi: Lol, that’s funny (and also a little absurd, but don’t tell Chuck I said that!). The issue can get people really worked up, I think because the decision seems to have so many value judgement built into it that we get defensive. It shouldn’t be that way — it’s just water — but it seems to stand in for so much.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) September 29, 2010, 12:53 pm

    This does sound interesting. I’ve actually heard that some bottle water actually comes from a local water supply, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.

    • Kim September 29, 2010, 4:17 pm

      bermudaonion: That’s one of his points in the book – bottled water often comes from close places and isn’t much different from tap water. It’s interesting.

  • Maphead September 29, 2010, 7:59 pm

    I’ve been curious about this book ever since I heard the author interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air a bit ago. About a year and a half ago I read a similar book called Bottlemania. In case you are interested, here is a link to Amazon:

    • Kim October 3, 2010, 10:09 am

      Maphead: Thanks for the link to the other book, it looks interesting too. From the summary, it looks like they cover some similar topics.

  • Lynne September 30, 2010, 7:09 am

    I’ve been curious about this book, Kim, so thanks for reading it for me 🙂

    We do recycle in our family, so it makes me feel a little better about all the bottles. I don’t notice a difference in the taste, so for me it’s really a matter of convenience. I’m addicted to water, if that’s possible, and must have a bottle in my purse at all times. They’re so easy to grab out of the fridge when on the run!

    • Kim October 3, 2010, 10:11 am

      Lynne: Having bottled water is pretty convenient. We have bottles at home a lot, but I’ve been trying to do more with just a reusable bottle now that I live on my own. I need to have water with me all the time, too.

  • Carina September 30, 2010, 6:43 pm

    I grew up on well water, but even now that I live in Toronto and am on “city water”, it’s still perfectly safe to drink. When I read this book a while back, I was totally shocked by how bad American tap water apparently is!

    • Kim October 3, 2010, 10:14 am

      Carina: I think tap water quality depends a lot on where you are and what the municipality does with it. In general, I think most of it is pretty safe, but it depends. The book does talk about this pretty extensively.

  • Gwen October 1, 2010, 5:24 pm

    The whole bottle water vs tap water thing baffles me. It seems like such a waste, the bottle, the transportation of said bottle, then the refuse that you have to deal with. And half of the time the water is no better than the stuff that I bathe in! Why do people turn up their nose when they just have to hit the tap? Tap water was good enough for my grandparents, it is good enough for me. (and I am not just saying that because I am on well water now)

    Since you mentioned that the book already leans this way, it would be sort of like preaching to the choir for me.

    • Kim October 3, 2010, 10:18 am

      Gwen: Yeah, a little bit preaching to the choir. I think Gleick’s biggest points are similar to the ones you made – the waste of all of it is pretty astounding to me.

  • softdrink October 3, 2010, 5:05 pm

    I can’t believe this book actually sounds interesting, but it does. I’m guilty of drinking bottled water, but our local water tastes awful. Even after I run it through a Brita, I can still taste it, which is just wrong. So I buy liter bottles (yes, I feel guilty) and during the week I fill them up at work.

    • Kim October 4, 2010, 4:24 pm

      softdrink: Lol, it is interesting! When I was buying bottled water, I did about the same thing to try and make the waste just a little bit less.