I am not uninterested in the reservoir system, but I (probably) would not have picked this book up if someone else had written it. I’ve followed Sante’s work for decades, the way you follow a band, because her writing has an unmistakable and addictive tone ... while Nineteen Reservoirs is a beautiful object — the period photographs and postcards are expertly reproduced and glow with feeling, and the book concludes with an apposite photo essay by Tim Davis — that elusive tone only rarely emerges ... This is a static and somewhat repetitive book that lacks a narrative through line. Sante seldom makes the kinds of connections and associations she does in her best work. And yet: Her semi-failures have more going for them than most writer’s successes ... Sante has always had an underdog’s left-of-the-dial feeling for what’s been threatened or lost. The best material in Nineteen Reservoirs is about the people who had their land confiscated, in colonial fashion, and submerge.
... feels half-cocked. Which is a shame, as the subject matter is rich and fascinating. It’s also timely, given that huge swaths of the country are presently grasping for water that isn’t there, and reservoirs in the West and elsewhere have approached dead-pool level ... Ms. Sante sets the stage for a similar exploration of the wrenching transformations that helped form a great city, but the result is less a gripping narrative than a historical survey that lacks the rich characterization and poetic flair of Ms. Sante’s best work ... Ms. Sante will occasionally drop in an aside that feels more like conjecture ... As a physical object, the book is a stunner, loaded with maps, archival stills of the construction process, vintage postcards and ads warning New Yorkers to check their plumbing and “stop that leak!” Accompanying Ms. Sante’s epilogue are Tim Davis’s photographs of the reservoir towns today, as picturesque as ever. Despite the visual evidence and some fascinating historical data, Nineteen Reservoirs feels like a larger story trapped inside a small one.