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A Short History Of Progress Hardcover – 1 Sep 2005

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841957119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841957111
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,072,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"In prose that is balefully evocative and irreducibly precise, Wright is in effect reading us our rights, giving us our options... This wise, timely and brilliant book will be a bulwark against the short-sighted and the self-interested, and may also ironically save them from themselves." The Globe and Mail; "[Ronald Wright] is a hard-nosed thinker, a literate and provocative presenter." - Winnipeg Free Press"

About the Author

Ronald Wright is a prize-winning novelist, historian, and essayist, published in ten languages. His nonfiction includes the number-one bestseller Stolen Continents, winner of the Gordon Montador Award and chosen as a book of the year by the Independent and the Sunday Times. His first novel, A Scientific Romance, won the 1997 David Higham Prize for Fiction and was chosen a book of the year by the Globe and Mail, the Sunday Times, and the New York Times. His latest book is the novel Henderson's Spear. He was born in England, educated at Cambridge, and now lives in British Columbia, Canada.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David Vale on 9 Oct 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of those books that you can't stop reading!

In this book, Ronald Wright gives us an overall view of the history of mankind so far, and the several and repeated mistakes and errors we have been doing ever since... With detailed views on the Easter Island, Sumerians, the Romans and the ancient civilizations of South America, it traces back the history of human civilization and shows us how these civilizations seem to have disappeared simply because they couldn't (or didn't want to) stop exploring the resources they had at hand.

I really recommend this book to anyone trying to understand current sustainability concerns or to understand and reflect a little more about a lot of ancient civilizations that simply vanished from the face of the earth.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Lord TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Oct 2008
Format: Paperback
A concise, readable, and punchy description of the manner in which a number of historical societies rendered their way of life obsolete and destroyed themselves by failing to adapt and to think ahead.

He describes as "progress traps" the apparent improvements of technology or culture which are too effective for the survival of the society which deploys them. For example, when hunting societies moved from catching individual animals to wiping out whole herds by driving them over cliffs it gave a short-term bonanza but soon led to the elimination of their food supply.

Particularly powerful is the description of the way the society of Rapa Nui, on what we call Easter Island, destroyed first the local ecology and consequently itself by felling every tree on the island to build the frames to support and move the huge and imposing Moai statues which are the only surviving remnant of their culture. European explorers were to wonder how such giant statues could have been built in such a desolate place: they weren't, it was man who rendered the island a desert in the act of building them.

Perhaps the most depressing part of the book is when Wright quotes some contemporary rulers or critics who actually foresaw the problems which would ultimately bring down their civilisations, but were unable to persuade enough of their fellow rulers or citizens to generate the necessary political will to take effective action. For example, Solon and Pisistratus foresaw the impact which deforestation would have on the ecology and economy of Athens and tried unsuccessfully to halt it, Ovid foresaw some of the problems of Ancient Rome.

We had better pay more heed to some of the warnings of the dangers facing our civilisation than some of their contemporaries did. This book is one such warning.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By kailin on 1 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
Ronald Wright: A Short History of Progress.
Published 2005 by Canongate Books Ltd., Edinburgh. ISBN 978 1 84195 830 9

The book starts ingeniously with Paul Gauguin, the french painter and writer, by most accounts considered bad and mad. Gauguin, who obviously suffered from "weltschmerz" , left his family and career in Paris to find out about the unspoiled raw "savage" man (and woman), eventually ending up in Tahiti. There he formulated three simple questions: "from where do we come from, what are we, where are we going". This is in essence what this book is about. In particular, Ronald Wright wants to address the last question. But he argues that we need to address the first and second questions first to get better clues to tackle the third question. I think this is a wise approach .Before I got this book I had written a letter-to-the-editor on a closely related subject- why we should abandon BNP increase. I happened to use the same metaphore as Wright- how we all are on an enormous global vessel that moves too fast and in the wrong direction.
Ronald Wright is a historian, has studied archaeology and also masters anthropology .His text is comprehensive (132 pages) but easy to follow and interfoiled with citations of other authors and historical episodes.He has a philosophical attitude and a scientific mind. He first describes mankinds early dawn, slowly evolving into the life of Neanderthals and Cro Magnons. Anthropological findings suggest that they fought for many centuries, finally leading to the disappearance of Neanderthals. It thus looks like the Cro Magnons, that we descend from, were responsible fo the first genocide in the history of mankind, indicating a genetic predisposition for violent behaviour in our genes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniela. G. on 18 Aug 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book after "Collapse", so for me it was a sort of summary of what is described in detail in Jared Diamond's excellent book (even if Wright does not agree completely with Diamond). Basically, the human race is on the brink of destructing planet Earth, because of its greed and stupidity. Other societies already accomplished the task of self-destruction, but on smaller scale and isolated environments - such as the infamous Easter Island.

Nowadays, globalization means that humankind has the power to wipe out the whole of itself, not just small populations living on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. This also thanks to neoliberal capitalism, which degrades nature into "ecosystem service" and the concept that "everything can be seen in terms of economics".

Unfortunately, it looks like the monkeys already started destroying the lab and nobody will stop them...
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