Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought

ABOUT James Workman

James Workman
James Workman began his award-winning career as a journalist in Washington, D.C. for The New Republic, Washington Monthly, Utne Reader, Orion, Washington Business Journal, and other publications.  In the Clinton administration he served as speechwriter and special assistant to Interior Se More...



The dramatic story of the Bushmen of the Kalahari is a cautionary tale about water in the 21st century—and offers unexpected solutions for our time.


“We don’t govern water.  Water governs us,” writes James Workman.  In Heart of Dryness, he chronicles the memorable saga of the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari—remnants of one of the world’s most successful civilizations, today at the exact epicenter of Africa’s drought—and their widely publicized recent battle with the government of Botswana—and in so doing, he explores the larger story of what many feel has become the primary resource battleground of the 21st century: the supply of water.


The Bushmen’s story could well prefigure our own.  In the United States, even the most upbeat optimists concede we now face an unprecedented water crisis.  Reservoirs behind large dams on the Colorado River, which serve 30 million in many states, will be dry in 13 years.  Southeast drought recently cut Tennessee Valley Authority hydropower in half, exposed Lake Okeechobee’s floor, withered the region’s crops, and left Atlanta with 60 days of water.  Cities east and west are heating up and drying out.  As reservoirs and aquifers fail, officials ration water, neighbors snitch on one another, corporations move in, and states fight states to control shared rivers.


Each year, around the world, inadequate water kills several million humans—more casualties than deaths from AIDS or malaria or all wars combined. Global leaders pray for rain. Bushmen tap more pragmatic solutions.  James Workman illuminates the present and coming tensions we all face over water and argues how, from the remoteness of the Kalahari, an ancient and resilient people is showing the world a viable path through the encroaching Dry Age.

Praise for Heart of Dryness


“An astonishing synthesis of human and natural history, folly, scarcity, beauty, dignity and power. Heart of Dryness is a must-read for anyone invested in the future of life on earth.”

--Rick Bass, author of The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana


“In a highly original and very realistic manner, Heart of Dryness addresses one of the most important issues of our time. Workman's experiences and insights are fascinating. Botswana’s Bushmen are perhaps the most knowledgeable people in the world about water. The result is a real page-turner.” 

--Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Old Way and The Harmless People


“A fascinating read and great adventure story. The water challenge of this century must be informed by looking back in time to traditional desert cultures like the Bushmen.”

--Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior, Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, author of Cities in the Wilderness


Heart of Dryness is an investigative and story-telling triumph. Workman's near-death experience upon entering the Kalahari places him, and us, in a position so primal that compassion suffuses every ensuing perception of the Bushmen. This remarkable book speaks to every neglected water user and water source on earth, showing a way back to accountability, sustainability, abundant life, and hope.”

--David James Duncan, author of The River Why

& The Brothers K


“Here are the universal politics of water uncovered by a storyteller who, from despair and tragedy in the Kalahari, opens our eyes to the planetary struggle underway to secure water for life on Earth. To win that struggle with water crisis looming, we will have to urgently learn from the water wisdom in Heart of Dryness.

--Mark Smith, Head, Water Programme, World Conservation Union


“What distinguishes this book is Workman’s ability to unpack the complex dynamics and politics surrounding one particular water conflict in the Kalahari and provide insights into how this particular situation sheds light on wider sector challenges across the globe.  This is critical reading for those rightly concerned about the sustainability of our planet where water resources are under growing stress.

                                      --Ned Breslin, CEO, Water for People