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A Cultural History of Climate Hardcover – 13 Nov 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press; 1 edition (13 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745645283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745645285
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.8 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,308,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"The reaction of societies to environmental change in this thoroughly research and insightful book is presented in a highly readable way, whether Behringer is dealing with the Medieval Warm Period and wine harvest data, or with the Little Ice Age and the rise of the Dutch genre of winter landscape painting." Sociology "[E]xcellent ... I strongly recommend A Cultural History of Climate ... It is particularly strong on explaining the dramatic cultural and social changes that climate variations have had on humanity over the last thousands of years, and discussing the archival and physical evidence in a very compelling way." Socialist Unity "A daring account of the ways in which climate has influenced the human story ... he proves beyond any sensible doubt that climate has helped shape human history. BOOK OF THE MONTH." Geographical "Behringer′s cultural history of climate shows that today′s concern with global warming is only the latest example of humankind′s preoccupation with weather and climate. He provides a careful and realistic view of the reaction of societies to environmental change." J. Donald Hughes, University of Denver "Today we may worry about global warming and climate change, but our ancestors coped with plenty of dramatic climate change too – this is the central theme of Behringer′s arresting global study of human responses to changing climate since our species appeared on earth. Not all readers will share his sanguine tone but they will find this extensively researched book consistently provocative and insightful, whether it′s dealing with wine harvest data, adoption of heavier clothing, the great ice age or the Dutch genre of winter landscape painting." Peter Coates, University of Bristol

From the Back Cover

Global warming and the future of the climate is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but what do we know about climate variations 500 years ago, or 5000 years ago? How can we know anything at all about the history of weather? What impact have climate changes had on human prosperity and the spirit of invention? In this major new book Wolfgang Behringer introduces us to the latest historical research on the development of the earth′s climate. He focuses above all on the cultural reactions to climate change through the ages, showing how even minor changes in the climate sometimes resulted in major social, political and religious upheavals. By examining how our predecessors responded to climate changes, Behringer provides us with a fresh basis for thinking about how we might address the serious climatic challenges we face today.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very good book linking social and economic history with climate change events which gives a new perspective on the major influences which shaped our history. Climate Change has always been with us for the last Ice Age to the more recent Little Ice Age, and its something we humans have just had to adapt to.
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An historical perspective 7 Jun. 2011
By Roald Euller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a recent translation from German of a book originally published in 2007.

While this book is explicitly a history of climate, the author keeps a steady focus on the implications of the historical narrative for the present debate on global warming, about which he has some interesting thoughts.

The book naturally falls into two parts. The first several chapters cover climate history from the origins of the earth 4.6 billion years ago through the present. This is a decent overview although might be a little succinct if this is one's first encounter with this material. The charts and graphs do a good job of supporting the text. Behringer takes pains to point out that the earth is currently in the midst of a several million year long ice age characterized by 100,000 year cycles of glaciation alternating with shorter and warmer interglacials. At present we are getting towards the end of an interglacial, and all other things being equal, we should expect the onset of a new period of glaciation within a few thousand years.

The book devotes more time to the period since the last glacial maximum (LGM) then to the preceding periods, but this is consistent with the book's intended focus on human cultural response to changing climate. There is considerable material on the rise of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, and the impact of climate - particularly droughts - on their various crises and collapses. The book then continues through Roman times, the Middle Ages and up to the present. There is interesting material on German archeological sites reflecting the author's nationality. I had not seen much of this material before.

At about the midway point the book switches gears and becomes much more of a traditional "cultural history" with extensive discussion of clothing, food, painting, literature, music, and so forth, during the late medieval warm period and especially during the Little Ice Age from roughly 1300-1850. The author touches on one of his own research areas: perceptions of witches and witchcraft (who were subject to blame for bad weather). The book focuses on the ways in which culture explicitly reflected in climate (e.g. - the increase in winter landscape painting, winter fairs on the frozen Thames). While Behringer realizes that climate was not the sole underlying cause of the evolution of human culture during this period, he certainly wants to give it its full due as an important and somewhat underappreciated factor. Significantly for his conclusion, he tries to highlight how human beings have always reacted and adapted to climate change throughout history.

Much of the material in A Cultural History of Climate overlaps with several volumes authored by Brian Fagan, for example, The Long Summer (2004) and The Little Ice Age (2001). Behringer's style is more concrete, and he is little given to the rambling speculations characteristic of Fagan. I tended to prefer Behringer, although I have in general enjoyed Fagan's books, so it's really a matter of personal taste. Interestingly, I could only find a single reference to Fagan in Behringer's notes, despite the obvious overlap in material and subject matter. I am not aware of an academic rift or rivalry between the two, but since I am not hooked into historical circles that shouldn't count for much. I did find the omission a bit odd given the usual fastidiousness of German scholarship.

The author concludes by saying that the lesson history teaches us is this: Climate change has been a constant through human history. Humans have always adapted, whether during the post glacial warming, the Younger Dryass cold period, the successive droughts of the Mesopotamian/Egyptian period, and during the Little Ice Age. The current crisis is no different from earlier crises. Human society will adapt and change, as it always has. While he is not a climate change denier (in fact he readily acknowledges that the current warming is both well documented and likely of human origin), those who view climate collapse as imminent will not be completely satisfied with A Cultural History of Climate. However, that is the value a long, historical perspective.

The quality of the paperback is quite good. The paper is thick and I suspect it will not turn yellow or brittle over time. The cover is gorgeous, but then Hunters in the Snow is my all time favorite painting.

Overall I really enjoyed this book. If this topic broadly interests you, I suggest reading it in conjunction with any of several books by Brian Fagan, MacDougall's Frozen Earth, Alley's Two Mile Time Machine, or Mithen's After the Ice, to name just a few.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Enthralling 30 Dec. 2011
By Kirialax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The premise of 'A Cultural History of Climate' is that Earth's climate is in a constant state of flux over very long periods, and that these changes lead to adaptation or destruction of life in particular ecosystems. However, the real focus of the book is on the influence of climate on human society and how it affects what we eat, wear, and how willing we are to rise up against governments. It must be pointed out that despite Behringer's obvious focus on the climate, he remains a good historian. The philosophical issues behind historical causation are complex and Behringer is too careful to blame climate for every major upheaval in world history although he does an excellent job in making such connections while never going too far with them. This is, perhaps, the greatest strength of this book besides the enthralling translation, as Behringer makes an extremely convincing case that weather patterns have played a role in many major transitions throughout human history. This is very important because too often such things are ignored by historians in favour of the historical data immediately available in their primary sources, and weather does not receive as much attention in such things as it should, especially after this book's publication.

Behringer's runs through the entire history of earth, but the main focus of this book is on human history, starting with the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago when the climate became less amenable to hunter-gatherer societies through the present day. He brings his audience through the "Roman optimum" to the cooling off in the late antiquity and the early middle ages, although this section is a little spartan. No doubt that lack of contemporary source material compared to the later periods is the cause of this. The book really picks up again in the high middle ages when the source material becomes more abundant and Behringer's case for the medieval warm period allowing the population in the west to expand is very convincing, although his failure to connect the cooling immediately before the Justinianic Plague and the breakout of the Black Death in 1347 is a little curious. In light of recent aetiological work on this topic (namely, Samuel Cohn's The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe (Arnold Publication), this is definitely a topic worthy of further study.) After this, Behringer devotes a large portion of the book to the "Little Ice Age" and makes some very interesting arguments on its effect on numerous aspects of European society. The books with a short chapter and epilogue that bring the reader up to the present day and engage some of the debates on climate change, arguing that a more historical perspective needs to be understood, and it needs to be taken into account that the climate has always changed a life on earth has always been forced to adapt for it or perish. The discussion of some of the concerns about a new ice age in the 1960s and 1970s are particularly revealing.

This is a fascinating book on the effects of climate change on human civilization throughout history. It is a translation from German, and while it is a particularly clear translation, the fact that much of the cited literature is in German makes further referencing difficult. However, I can not fault the book for this. We are simply fortunate to have this fascinating work translated into English.
Would recommend and use this provider again 22 Aug. 2014
By d.r. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Quick service and item as described. Would recommend and use this provider again.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Boring 17 Feb. 2014
By Curt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book to be overly detailed and very boring. If you make it to the end you will discover that the author is just another climate change advocate.
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