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Bottlemania [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Royte

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Book Description

May 16 2008
An incisive, intrepid, and habit-changing narrative investigation into the commercialization of our most basic human need: drinking water.
Having already surpassed milk and beer, and second now only to soda, bottled water is on the verge of becoming the most popular beverage in the country. The brands have become so ubiquitous that we’re hardly conscious that Poland Spring and Evian were once real springs, bubbling in remote corners of Maine and France. Only now, with the water industry trading in the billions of dollars, have we begun to question what it is we’re drinking and why.
In this intelligent, eye-opening work of narrative journalism, Elizabeth Royte does for water what Eric Schlosser did for fast food: she finds the people, machines, economies, and cultural trends that bring it from nature to our supermarkets. Along the way, she investigates the questions we must inevitably answer. Who owns our water? What happens when a bottled-water company stakes a claim on your town’s source? Should we have to pay for water? Is the stuff coming from the tap completely safe? And if so, how many chemicals are dumped in to make it potable? What’s the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and disposing of all those plastic bottles?
A riveting chronicle of one of the greatest marketing coups of the twentieth century as well as a powerful environmental wake-up call, Bottlemania is essential reading for anyone who shells out two dollars to quench their daily thirst.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury US (May 16 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913711
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913714
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 15.1 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 399 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #848,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Royte (Garbage Land) plunges into America's mighty thirst for bottled water in an investigation of one of the greatest marketing coups of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As tap water has become cleaner and better-tasting, the bottled water industry has exploded into a $60 billion business; consumers guzzle more high-priced designer water than milk or beer and spend billions on brands such as Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani that are essentially processed municipal water. It's an unparalleled—and almost exclusively American—social phenomenon. With journalistic zeal, Royte chronicles the questionable practices of Nestle-owned Poland Springs and documents the environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles, the carbon footprint of water shipped long distances and health concerns around the leaching of plastic compounds from bottles. Not all tap water is perfectly pure, writes Royte, still, 92% of the nation's 53,000 local water systems meet or exceed federal safety standards and it is the devil we know, at least as good and often better than bottled water. This portrait of the science, commerce and politics of potable water is an entertaining and eye-opening narrative. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Fantastic.” – Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Ingenious.... Amiably, without haranguing or hyperventilating, this veteran environmental writer has produced what could be, assuming enough people read it, one of the year's most influential books."  - Boston Globe

"Royte's lively investigation of water politics will leave you ashamed to drink out of plastic, uneasy about the tap, and impressed by her ability to synthesize complicated material into such a witty and engaging book." —Entertainment Weekly 
 
“An easy-to-swallow survey…. after you read it you will sip warily from your water bottle (whether purchased or tap, plastic or not), as freaked out by your own role in today’s insidious water wars as by Royte’s recommended ecologically responsible drink: “Toilet to tap.”” Lisa Margonelli, New York Times Book Review

“Light and easy-to-read narrative…lots of interesting factoids…” —Providence Journal-Bulletin

“At a time of climate change and increasing risks to global water supplies, we must change the way we think about this crucial resource and begin treating it as a public good to be preserved, rather than the equivalent of an oil deposit or timber forest, ripe for corporate exploitation.” —New Scientist

“An intriguing look at a totem of the ultramodern, perhaps selfish, way we live now” —Time Out Chicago

"a well-balanced, interesting and instructive book about our fundamental human need to drink water" —Chicago Sun Times

“Seamlessly blending scientific explanation and social observation" —LA Times Book Review

"Bottlemania makes the case that it's not in our interests to let private multinational corporations float their boats on our nation's water. That's not democracy, it's dam-ocracy, and it could damn us all if we let their unquenchable thirst for profit take precedence over our right to clean, safe, free drinking water." —Kerry Trueman, Huffingtonpost.com

“An intrepid, intelligent analysis of Americans’ raging thirst for bottled water.” —BookPage

“An essential, if somewhat disturbing, read.” —VeryShortList.com

"A breezy, accessible history of water through the ages....a good account of the tensions in the little town of Fryeburg, Maine." —New York Post

"A sharp indictment of the bottled-water industry" —New York Observer

“Informative” —Meghan O’Rourke, Slate.com

"Compelling and dynamic" —Library Journal

“Entertaining and eye-opening” —Publishers Weekly

“Bottlemania is eye-opening and informative; you will never look at water – either "designer" or tap – in quite the same way. Royte demonstrates how everything is, in the end, truly connected.” —Elizabeth Kolbert

Royte deserves credit for her tenacity and well-balanced approach….Lively investigative journalism." —Kirkus Reviews

One of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2008


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An expose that merits more attention May 21 2008
By Sreeram Ramakrishnan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a remarkably interesting read that I am afraid hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Ever since I read an article on "Fast Company" on the phenomenon of bottled water, I have been intrigued by it. A recent review in "Seed" introduced me to this book. I am glad that I read it.

Despite the "funny" review of a top 1000 reviewer (imagine that) that considers this book as propaganda for more regulation, it is quite the opposite. The book comes across as a systematic analysis of how the industry evolved and some on-the-scene reporting of key players like Nestle and Poland Springs. The chapter on the latter, neatly cataloging the unimaginable conflicts of interests and a apparently pliant local public officials, alone is worth the price of the book. It is impossible for a reader not to be shocked at some of the reporting (the author almost always avoids any preachy tone). The contrasts and comparisons drawn between the Freysburg and Kingsfield communities is an interesting read as well. There is another chapter that outlines some actions companies like Coke are taking to evaluate their footprint. Another chapter worth mentioning is "Something to Drink?" - the last chapter which takes a broader viewpoint and ties the topics to global warming and related issues. You will learn fun stats as "a cotton t-shirt is backed by 528.3 gallons of water and a single cup of coffee by 52.8 gallons".

Now, the negatives - The book takes a decidely US-centric narration. There is no extensive discussion on similar issues outside of the US (though there is some mention on the Coke debacle in India). The first-account narrative style helps to provide a very down-to-earth method to convey the ideas, but sometimes distracts from highlighting some of the salient points being made.

Nevertheless, an informative, entertaining read that will certainly question the utility of an entire industry.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the apparently trivial title June 6 2008
By J. R. Lebowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The title is cute and catchy and implies the book is a lightweight screed about the erstwhile evils of drinking bottled water. Yes, the initial starting point for Ms. Royte's inquiry was asking some simple questions about the impacts and equities of a corporation bottling huge quantities of Maine springwater. But this is an important environmental book, in the same league as "An Inconvenient Truth".

This is because Ms. Royte's simple questions about bottled water lead her and us on an exploration of a whole hidden world of our water and sanitation resources and infrastructure that lies behind our taps. How does bottled springwater differ from tap water in terms of harmful biological and chemical contaminants? How did the fad of chugging water out of throwaway plastic bottles catch on? Where does our tap water come from? How is it treated? Is that necessarily good for us? What is happening to the watersheds that all of us depend on? How can they be protected? How are water and sanitation systems interrelated? Are these groundwater and freshwater issues affected by other environmental trends, like global warming? And so on.

Like Ms. Royte, you will probably come to the end of this brisk, readable work knowing a lot more about your own water and sanitation then you did when you began and have a much better appreciation of the somewhat unsurprising policy conclusions she reaches: that protecting our public drinking water "commons" makes more sense than drinking water bottled at distant plants.

Although judging by the cute title and cover art the topic might seem a bit frothy and more of a treatise on marketing and product development, the author's target is much wider. I am an environmental attorney and have handled permitting and litigation involving public water supply and sanitary treatment systems and bottled springwater, and am impressed by how the author is able to get so much technical detail right, while keep it readable and interesting to a lay audience. Ms. Royte has written one of the best general interest books in a long while on an important, probably, THE most important environmental topic (other than climate change/greenhouse gases) of "wat-san" and preserving/expanding our aging public water and sewer infrastructure. In getting to those conclusions by starting her inquiry with questions about commoditized bottled water, the author attempts to be evenhanded and fair in her depiction of the corporate and individual actors without overly indulging in anti-corporate bias.

My only minor quibble is the omission of any discussion of state licensing requirements and associated testing and reporting requirements (where it says, e.g., "NYSHD Cert. No. ___" on the label in small type). However, that's just a small omission, although I'm surprised the Nestle people didn't mention that there are state reviews of their in-house analytical and production data, it would seem to make their case stronger that water quality is not merely self-regulated or conforming only to advisory industry standards (i.e., IBWA) with respect to periodic testing, labeling and allowable maximum contaminant levels. That small error however does not detract significantly from the quality of this book. I've just ordered a few more copies of this book to share with several friends and colleagues who I think would be interested, that's how much I'm recommending it.
44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely the Best Book on Nestle and the Predatory Bottled Water Industry May 17 2008
By Peter Crabb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Elizabeth Royte has written the best book available on the bottled water industry. Focusing on Nestle Waters North America and its Poland Spring operations in Maine, Royte's writing is knowledgeable, even-handed, and hip, and has none of the hyperbolic mewling that many environmentalist writers fall prey to. She provides sweeping and insightful coverage of the history, hydrogeology, chemistry, technology, politics, economics, and social psychology of the commodification of water. Readers will develop a better appreciation of just how unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and frankly crazy it is to buy and drink bottled water. An enlightening joy to read. Thanks, Elizabeth!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting at the true cost of bottled water Aug. 11 2009
By Todd Bartholomew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Bottlemania" is a continuation of the dialog started by Royte in her book "Garbage Land" in 2006, this time looking more specifically at the bottled water business that has sprung up in the past decade. Royte takes a multi-disciplinary approach to analyzing the industry looking at the science, the marketing, the commerce, and the politics of selling water and the results are disturbing to say the least. Royte's prose is always engaging and entertaining as she investigates the industry with a reformer's zeal and she asks hard questions that consumers should be asking themselves: in a time when we have perhaps the cleanest tap water why do we spend billions on bottled water, what is the true cost of this industry, how do the practices of the industry harm communities and consumers, and perhaps the most fundamental question of all, is bottled water really all that good for us? Royte casts a wide net, looking at the adverse environmental and economic impact bottlers have to local water sources, concerns over BPA in plastic bottles, the lack of recycling for those plastic bottles (a theme explored in "Garbage Land" as well), the heavy carbon footprint for transporting water to consumers, comparisons of tap water and bottled water, and how the water companies subtly play on consumers fears through their marketing. In the end "Bottlemania" is a call to invest in our failing water infrastructure to ensure continued water safety and to avoid the potential for water scarcity. Many of the best water systems waste a considerable amount of treated potable water through leakage before it even reaches consumers homes; something that will be unthinkable in a time of water shortages. And while we've treated tap water as a cheap commodity not worth worrying over bottled water has instead become a fetish, something essential yet also something that makes a statement about the individual. We chuckle at comics satirizing people who pay more for bottled water than they pay for gasoline or milk and yet our favored "fashion accessory" is that same bottle of water. Hopefully "Bottlemania" will make readers think twice about the high price we truly pay.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water, Water, Everywhere? Well, Perhaps If It's Bottled Jan. 8 2009
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are some who predict that water will be the next oil. The world has not quite reached that point yet, but the early signs are painfully evident for those who care to look. Oddly, millions of Americans are already willingly and unnecessarily paying more per gallon for bottled water than they pay for gasoline, even though they can get nearly the same water from the taps for pennies.

Elizabeth Royte attempts to address the bizarre cult and psychology of bottled water in her entertaining and highly readable book, BOTTLEMANIA: HOW WATER WENT ON SALE AND WHY WE BOUGHT IT. To her great credit, Ms. Royte tackles a macro issue through micro means, turning what could have been pages of dry statistics into highly personal stories that shed revealing light on how water issues, particularly those raised by bottled water, affect local communities. The stories she tells are devastating, as are the lessons to be learned.

For readers who, like me, are not well acquainted with the bottled water world, the first important fact to know is who the players are. Not the brands, the players. Heard of Poland Spring? Deer Park? Perrier? San Pellegrino? Arrowhead? Calistoga? Ice Mountain? Ozarka? Zephyrhills? All of those brands - all of them - are owned by one company, Nestle. How about Aquafina? That's Pepsi. How about Dasani, or Glaceau? Those are Coca-Cola. Evian? That's Danone (Dannon), but in the U.S., that's Coca-Cola, too. Next, do you know that Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani are just bottled tap water? Purified and with some minerals added, to be sure, but just tap water. How about this one - that companies like Nestle extra billions of gallons of spring water from around the United States and rarely pay anything to the local community. In other words, they are selling a product that comes to them for free. Or this one - that it takes 17 million barrels of oil each year to make the plastic bottles for just the U.S. bottled water market, which doesn't even begin to account for the oil consumed in transporting those bottles to market or disposing of them.

Ms. Royte's book is full of information like this. She uses as her focal point the long-term battles that have taken place in northwestern Maine between Poland Spring (Nestle) and the local communities, particularly that of Fryeburg. Along the way, the Fryeburg story provides her with a highly local context in which to hash out the far larger national and even global ramifications of control over water, from management of watersheds to impacts of bottling on local watertables and aquifers, from tap water quality to the environmental impact of countless millions of plastic water bottles. The author even digresses into a couple of curiously humorous asides, one concerning bottle water aficionados and another addressing the rather unsettling notion of large scale recycling (for tap water consumption) of water extracted from human waste.

BOTTLEMANIA will likely be, for many, a wake-up call. The environmental impacts of bottled water are clearly horrendous, and the lack of regulation and increasing corporatization and privatization of water supply (bottled or not) should be distressing concerns not just in the United States, but worldwide. In that regard, I very highly recommend a documentary DVD called FLOW about international water privatization by companies like Vivendi and Suez as as a remarkably on-point companion piece to Ms. Royte's book.

Ms. Royte's book is not perfect - she is too reluctant to engage in polemics when they are clearly called for, and at least some supplementary statistics presented in tabular form (including a list of all the major and lesser bottled waters and their ownerships) would have been helpful. In addition, she takes perhaps too much of a pass on calling out Americans for their gullibility, laziness, and gross wastefulness as it pertains to the entire bottled water movement. Nevertheless, BOTTLEMANIA serves an important educative purpose, and it does so in an engaging and entertaining way. This is a book that should be required reading for every high school student in America - regrettably, few will probably ever even know about it.

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