This book was at times too ambitious, ranging as it does from ancient Mesopotamia to modern Amsterdam. However, the chapter on water is worth a read all on its own.

Here are some of of the interesting facts I learned from this book:

  • Constructing the Colosseum required 44 billion kcals, 34 billion of which were for oxen and 10 billion of which were for human workers (p. 162)
  • The population of Europe was basically flat between 1345 and 1780 (p. 197)
  • In 1854 London had 200,000 cesspools, the contents of which were removed by farmers for manure. Ones in the central city were more expensive to reach, so they were less likely to be cleaned regularly. This contributed to the cholera outbreak of the 1850s, which was also related to the discovery of guano (p. 198)

Rose is at his most interesting when he compares pairs of cities. For example, Birmingham and Atlanta were both given the opportunity to become the headquarters for Delta Airlines. Atlanta won and has become a major transportation hub.

After reading this book I am more convinced than ever that there is an interesting book to be written on the economic history of air conditioning. Rose describes how Mesa, Arizona, grew from a population of about 7,000 in 1950 to nearly a half-million today; this is unfathomable without air conditioning. Apparently heat waves also kill more people each year than any other type of weather event.