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The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 [Hardcover]

Brian Fagan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Feb 2001
Brian Fagan examines the dominant climate event of the last millennium-the 500-year Little Ice Age-and shows how it affected major episodes of European history. Only in the last decade have climatologists developed an accurate picture of yearly climate conditions in historical times. This development confirmed a long-standing suspicion: that the world endured a 500-year cold snap-The Little Ice Age-that lasted roughly from A. D. 1300 until 1850. The Little Ice Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable and often very cold years of modern European history, how climate altered historical events, and what they mean in the context of today's global warming. With its basis in cutting-edge science, The Little Ice Age offers a new perspective on familiar events. Renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increasing cold affected Norse exploration; how changing sea temperatures ca used English and Basque fishermen to follow vast shoals of cod all the way to the New World; how a generations-long subsistence crisis in France contributed to social disintegration and ultimately revolution; and how English efforts to improve farm productivity in the face of a deteriorating climate helped pave the way for the Industrial Revolution and hence for global warming. This is a fascinating, original book for anyone interested in history, climate, or the new subject of how they interact.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Printing edition (5 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022717
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,290,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"Climate change is the ignored player on the historical stage," writes archeologist Brian Fagan. But it shouldn't be, not if we know what's good for us. We can't judge what future climate change will mean unless we know something about its effects in the past: "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". And Fagan's story of the last thousand years, centered on the "Little Ice Age," reminds us of what we could end up repeating: flood, fire, and famine--acts of God exacerbated by acts of man.

For all that he takes a broad--a very broad--view of European history, Fagan's writing is laced with human faces, fascinating anecdotes, and a gift for the telling detail that makes history live, very much in the style of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror. When Fagan talks about the voyages of Basque fishermen to American shores (probably landing before Columbus sailed), he puts in the taste of dried cod and the terrifying suddenness of fogs on the Grand Banks. The Great Fire of London, what it was like when the Dutch dikes broke, the Irish Potato Famine, the year without a summer, ice fairs on the Thames, and volcanoes in the South Pacific--Fagan makes history a ripping yarn in which we are all actors, on a stage that has always been changing. --Mary Ellen Curtin


"[The Little Ice Age] could do for the historical study of climate what Michel Foucault's classic Madness and Civilization did for the historical study of mental illness: make it a respectable subject for scholarly inquiry." -Scientific American. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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The fog lies close to the oily, heaving water, swirling gently as a bitterly cold air wafts in from the north. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating! 12 Aug 2003
In this fascinating book, Professor Fagan introduces something of a climactic history of Europe. The first chapter covers the Medieval Warm Period of 900 to 1300 AD, when Greenland supported a thriving dairy-producing economy, and when French vintners sought protection against the import of fine English wines! Also sprinkled through the book are references to a Mini-Ice Age that extended from 500 to 900 AD, and an earlier warm period extending from 100 to 400 AD.
The second chapter chronicles the traumatic ordeal that Europe experienced as the planet cooled and weather took on new, harsher patterns. The author then continues on to document the tribulations of Little Ice Age Europe, and the changes that the new environment spurred. In the final chapter, the end of the Little Ice Age is covered, along with the author's thoughts on Global Warming.
This book is absolutely fascinating. Most history books do not mention the climate, except as background. Professor Fagan, on the other hand, rightly shows how the climate can be a major factor. The book is easily read (and not academic in tone), and very informative.
I must admit that this book has changed some of my opinions on Global Warming, and given me a great deal to think about. I am fascinated by the apparent yo-yoing of global temperatures throughout history, and hope to find a book that looks at the subject over a longer timeframe. This is a great book, and I recommend it to everyone.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, accessible - well worth reading 20 April 2003
By clairefromwales VINE VOICE
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is extremely well written. The science is comprehensible, but doesn't seem to have been oversimplified. The analysis of the impact of climate changes on European history in the period is convincing. The inadequacies in much of the data is made clear and serves to illustrate the difficulties in drawing conclusions about a system as complex as the Earth's climate.
The descriptive passages of life in times past are particularly interesting, for instance the sections on Viking settlements in Iceland and Greenland and cod fishing.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in climate or those who want to expand their understanding of history by considering the impact of some of the more subtle, but overwhelmeing forces that shape human destiny.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weather is important 26 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating read on the Little Ice Age that gripped the world from 1200 to 1850 - particularly 1600 -1800- and how it affected history. I would have liked more description and details of some of the extreme cold - e.g. the Great Freezes and Frost Fairs of Britain are well documented. Nevertheless, a great read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read 14 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An interesting little book for the layman that actually pulls quite a punch when looking at the future of our warming globe, having drawn references from the past. In quite a short read Fagan draws together the dynamic forces of climate, politics, agriculture and the upheavals in society during those years covered in the book. The only drawbook are the, at times, woefully inadequate maps and diagrams.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing dimension 15 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roughly speaking, the Little Ice Age lasted from 1300 through to around 1850. This fascinating little book looks at the consequences of that event, without being at all deterministic. It also explains, in layman's terms, the hydrodynamics of the oceans as we currently understand them.

The result is a fascinating synthesis of climatology, history, sociology, and politics. It also sets the current extended warm period in rather more context than it normally gets in the press. I really enjoyed reading this book, which although about climate, sets people at the center of its story. I know quite a lot about European history, especially social and political history in the later part of the period covered. However, this book gave me a completely new perspective on the events of that period, giving me a much more rounded picture.

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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful
This is in many ways a frustrating book. The subject matter is fascinating - the climatic changes of the last 1500 years and their effect on history. Brian Fagan is Professor of Archaeology at the University of California, and is well qualified for the task, but his account leaves the reader feeling curiously unsatisfied. There are many good features of the book, the style is easy and the examples are well chosen, but the connection between the examples and the scientific evidence is not well presented. The account is based on evidence from ice cores, tree rings, volcanic eruptions, historical accounts, wine harvests and instrument records. Yet virtually no attempt has been made to link the documentary observations to scientific data. Instead the reader is left hanging, and is forced to take on trust such assertions as 'tree rings and ice cores chronicle the ever changing climate through the terrible years of the Black Death and Hundred Years War'.The book is largely concerned with Europe and the Atlantic and documents the cold period which extended from the great famine of 1315 to about 1850. Much fascinating evidence is presented, including an account of the abandonment of the Greenland settlements, the late wine harvests in France,the southward migration of the cod shoals, and an account of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Java which produced 'the year without a summer', but there is little in the way of an analysis of the causes of the Little Ice Age. The quality of the maps and diagrams is very disappointing. Some are simplistic to the point of irrelevance, and the reconstructed weather maps are largely speculative. A fascinating book, but one which could have been considerably improved with the inclusion of a bit more science.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read for Environmentalists and Climate Changers!
Wonderful, in-depth analysis of exactly how the variations in temperature affected the various states and nations during the centuries of the little ice age, which only ended in... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Sugarplum Fairy
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
Lots of interesting facts in the book about the consequences and extent of the LIA, along with plenty of supporting evidence. A readily accessible read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by jonathan martin
4.0 out of 5 stars yup
A bit too much of a popular version and missing som scientific values. At least I have read it all.
Published 8 months ago by k Flygare
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
The majority of Professor Fagan's book is a worthy account of the extent to which our planet's climate can vary without any help from mankind. For that it is well worth reading. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mr. David Holland
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring!
The book started quite good. But then it's just anecdotes after anecdotes. That's very boring to read for me. Read more
Published on 26 July 2012 by anonimus
2.0 out of 5 stars A terrible disappointment
The Little Ice Age was recommended to me. I checked the reviews here... generally pretty good. So I bought it.
What a disappointment. This book is repetitive and dull. Read more
Published on 3 May 2012 by Dr Jonathan H Berber
4.0 out of 5 stars Historically interesting - my jury's still out on global warming
This is a most interesting book which I picked up quite by chance. It tells the story of the "Little Ice Age" where temperatures and climatic conditions were quite different... Read more
Published on 8 Nov 2011 by Keen Reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and understandable
This is an excellent introduction to the past effects of climate change. As a practicising archaeologist it has started to provide a few answers for some of my research. Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2010 by Mr. D. W. Hall
5.0 out of 5 stars Drought, discontent and decapitation
A few years ago historians proposing history was driven by climate aroused a squall of controversy. Global warming, so clearly impacted, if not driven, by humanity is leading to... Read more
Published on 7 May 2004 by Stephen A. Haines
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