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The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization [Hardcover]

Brian Fagan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 May 2004
The Earth's climate has always been in flux: glacial periods and warm ones have slowly and relentlessly alternated for millennia. But the period of global warming of the last 15,000 years is without precedent, and it set the conditions which enabled civilization to arise. It is our 'long summer'. From the almost unimaginably hostile climate of the late Ice to the onset of 'Little Ice Age', which began in 1315 and lasted half a millennium, this book tells the remarkable story of how human history has been influenced by the planet's ever-changing climate. Brian Fagan deploys all the resources of the new climatology to reveal the complex interplay between human development and the weather. He shows that human beings have proved themselves to be at their most resilient and adaptable when the Earth's volatile climate has posed the greatest challenges: severe droughts in southwestern Asia, the drying of the Sahara brought cattle people to the Nile Valley with their distinctive ideas of leadership, and the ripple effects of the Medieval Warm Period had very different and profound impacts in Europe and the Americas. Confronted with such challenges, our ancestors time and again rose to meet them. Besides allowing us an previously unattainable understanding of the forces which shaped the lives of our distant ancestors, the revolutionary advances in climatology of the past quarter century provide us, for the first time, with a historical context in which to understand the unprecedented global warming of today, as we try to anticipate an uncertain climatic future.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (27 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076448
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076440
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,117,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

A professor of anthropology by training, Brian Fagan traces the effects of climate change on civilisation over the past 15,000 years--a period of prolonged global warming that has accelerated in the past 150 years. In particular, he's interested in how civilisations have responded to, or been radically altered by, changes in environment. One of Fagan's most compelling examples is a detailed history of the city of Ur in what is now Iraq. Once a great city in one of the world's earliest civilisations, it first thrived thanks to abundant rainfall and then suffered severely when the Indian Ocean monsoons shifted southward, changing rain patterns. By 2000 BC its agricultural economy had collapsed, and today it is an abandoned landscape, an assemblage of decaying shrines in the harshest of deserts.

Fagan views this event as pivotal. It was, he writes, "the first time an entire city disintegrated in the face of environmental catastrophe". But it wasn't the last: in his epilogue, which covers the last 800 years of human history, Fagan explores the climatic upheavals that left 20 million dead in famine-related epidemics in the 19th century. He notes that today 200 million people barely survive on marginal agricultural land in places such as northeastern Brazil, Ethiopia and the Saharan Sahel. If temperatures rise much above current levels and rising seas flood coastal plains, the devastation could dwarf any disaster mankind has previously known. Fagan doesn't offer easy solutions, but he presents a compelling history of climate's role in the background--and sometimes foreground--of human history. --Keith Moerer,


‘A fascinating history of climatic shifts over the past 20,000 years’ -- Ecologist

‘He has the knack of making arcane archaeological information accessible to broad audiences...’ -- Nature

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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drowning and drought 11 Jun 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Anyone still believing scientists lack a sense of humanity should read this. Although the title suggests yet another climate study, this isn't a simple analysis of our weather systems. Fagan places the human condition at the centre of his narrative. It's not enough to present more evidence of global warming. In fact, he's adamant about the causes of current climate change being a "side debate". He's much more concerned about how many climate shifts humanity has experienced and how we reacted to them. His theme is our adaptability to weather changes in the past and whether we can garner lessons for the future.
Establishing a scenario beginning twenty thousand years ago, Fagan lines out three Acts for the peopling of the Americas. The first is in "the primodial homeland", Ice Age Siberia, followed by conditions revealed about the Beringian Land Bridge of fifteen thousand years ago. The final act takes us to the chaotic Atlantic and the European environment. Conditions were rarely stable as "the glaciers were never still". Their "irregular dance" kept conditions variable and human response was adapt or perish. Canadian fresh meltwater interrupted the Gulf Stream letting harsh cold envelope Europe.
Human adaptibility often meant improvements on older technologies or innovative ones to cope with the result of climate change. Spears, later with atlatls - "spear throwers" to improve range and accuracy, then bows, were significant tools. Yet, one of the most momentous inventions was the needle - still in use almost unchanged today. This device could produce layered clothing, a major adaptive step in times of abrupt weather changes.
Weather changes can be due to single events - even those occurring at intervals like El Nino.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read 18 Aug 2004
In this highly informative book, author and professor of anthropology, Brian Fagan, looks at the changes in climate that have racked the Earth since the end of the last Ice Age some 15,000 years ago. During these years, as civilization began, and then spread, periodic and unpredictable climate changes have affected human history, often with catastrophic results. With chapters covering climactic events from 18,000 years ago to right up to the present, the author spins a fascinating tale of climate and history, as they changed together throughout the millennia.
Overall, if found this to be a very interesting book. On the down side, its various chapters do not tie together in a progressive unfolding of history, but instead hop from subject to subject, like a series of articles. But, that said, this is a fascinating book. The author has an excellent grasp on both human and climactic history, and he succeeds in putting them together to tell the story of mankind, bringing out information that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
I really enjoyed this book, and must admit to have found its lesson of unpredictable, but inevitable, climate change to have been quite sobering. If you want to understand human history, and I mean really understand it, then you must read this book!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel 12 Jan 2006
I was given this book as a present. It lay on the table for a couple of weeks before I finally picked it up. Then I couldn't put it down.
Fagan brings together great professional experience to summarise existing anthropological and archaeological evidence, and paints pictures of the human strategies for survival in good and bad environmental conditions over the past 15,000 years. He describes the progressive developments of societies, from hunter gatherer communities to city states, and shows how they made the best use of available resources and ingenuity.
In The Long Summer Fagan clearly illustrates the ever-changing nature of climatic variation. As patterns of glaciation ebb and flow, events such as melting ice can dramatically change the climate of large regions of the earth, often remote from the origin, thrusting the people who live there into new ways of existence as communities are destroyed, often within short time periods. In former times, people survived by changing their diet or migrating to areas with more favourable climatic conditions, but this is denied to more recent civilisations because of national boundaries and competition for resources in a world of high populations.
Choosing examples from different societies in Europe and Asia, and then the Americas, Fagan progresses through the centuries towards the present day, but omits contemporary society except to say that we ignore human impacts on the global climate at our peril, likening the attitudes of modern political leaders to a ship's captain who denies the existence of bad weather.
Repeatedly through the past centuries, societies have waxed and waned in response to favourable and unfavourable climatic conditions.
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