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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting book!
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...
Published on 9 Oct 2006 by David Vale

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice easy introduction to the coming crisis of human civilisation
A lot of overlap with Jhared Diamond's "Collapse", which is longer and more thorough - surprisingly neither book seems to reference the other, though both reference Joseph Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies". More detail on paleolithic catastrophes, less on more recent ones like the collapse of the Nordic civilisation in medieval Iceland.
Published on 20 Aug 2009 by Jezza


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really interesting book!, 9 Oct 2006
By 
David Vale (Lisbon, Portugal) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Short History of Progress (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Of "Progress Traps" and inflexible thinking, 16 Oct 2008
By 
Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Short History of Progress (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
5.0 out of 5 stars mankind history and future: a short history, 1 Mar 2011
This review is from: A Short History of Progress (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.
The invention of farming allowed creation of civilisations with domestication of plants, animals and - human beings, followed by the development of towns, governments, social classes and professions. The first civilisations developed about 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) by the Sumers and in Egypt. Later, about 1000 B.C.,India, China, Mexico, Peru and parts of Europe followed. All this is well documented, as evident from the impressive about 290 references. The lesson in this chapter is that taming nature for large scale successful farming made rapid population growth possible and ocurred at all continents except Australia.
But why did at least four civilisations (and one mini-civilisation, the Eastern island) disappear? There is a common pattern. The Sumerian civilisation, with its biblical connotations (Tower of Babel, Noahs Flood) was the first to vanish. Mesopotamia was originally a wonderful forest landscape and the villages lived in peace. But as the population slowly grew, better tools were developed and the demand for wood increased. Deforestration started. Finally, after several centuries, the slopes had no trees anymore, which led to large scale erosion and arid land. This, in turn, caused massive floods after heavy rains, as recently happened in Pakistan. In addition, at the end of the Sumer civilisation a hierarchic social pyramid had formed with the economic and religious leader elite at the top and starving peasants all around. Antique Greece also broke in pieces because of deforestration and the Roman empire grew too big to support all citizens. A similar pattern emerged to the Aztek civilisation long before the Spaniards arrived. The clash of two civilisations when the spaniards arrived in Mexico was exceptional, since both were completely unaware of the other world, yet both had developed high-level culture. The clash ended up in much cruelty and slaughter, again a sad example of the savage mankind.The dystopic theme in the book is lighted by thoughtful episodes: Mahatma Gandhi was in London to speak about Indian self-rule. A reporter asked: What do you think about Western civilisation? Gandhi, who just had visited the London slums, answered: "I think it would be a very good idea".
In the last chapter Ronald Wright leans back and discusses "where are we going". He compares todays problems with the invention of agriculture, which permits population growth until crops are insufficient and all but the wealthy start starving. He urges us not to follow the ball but the game of the world. He cites historians pointing out that previously deathly germs kept dense populations restricted and that the azteks were defeated primarily by smallpox viruses from Europe and not byt he Spaniards. Ronald Wright gives many arguments why we have to stop the blind free market train, eventually destroying living conditions for most of mankind.
I quote the reviewers of this book in Times Literary Supplement: "A compelling work of distilled visdom", in Guardian: "The author sifts the findings of arcaeology and anthropology with thoughtful grace on to build a potent argument, and in Globe and Mail: "Wise, timely and briliant". I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned in "where are we going" and wants an excellent, well documented background plus numerous wise thoughts on the subject.

Kai O. Lindros Ph D

Petersg 11A , 00140 Helsinki Finland.+358-50-3238359
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the brink of destruction, 18 Aug 2014
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This review is from: A Short History of Progress (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars understanding progress, 29 Dec 2009
By 
J. Clayton (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Short History of Progress (Paperback)
It seems as though this important book may have been overlooked by many who would find it interesting. It offers important insights into the way humanity has developed over the centuries, not by steady progress but with leaps in technical achievements which have brought temporary advantage but potential disaster. An example in modern times might be the improvement in fishing techniques that have led to overfishing with the probability of the extinction of some sea creatures. Another is the destruction and fear as a consequence of the splitting of the atom. Yet another is the human activity that is leading to global warming. Ronald Wright shows how over many centuries civilisations have become the victims of their own progress. Now humanity could be contemplating the worst disaster of all and we have "a last chance to get the future right."
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 2 Mar 2008
By 
Ian Paterson (Madrid) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Short History of Progress (Paperback)
brilliant. enlightening. entertaining.
Page upon page of eminently quotable nuggets of distilled wisdom.
this is a must read
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5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and pertinent, 14 Oct 2014
By 
Nell (Ferny Grove, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This book is well worth reading. It is a fascinating overview of human history with an agenda that, while probably not to everyone's taste, I think serves as a warning. If we continue to misuse or ignore history, we miss out on information that is vital to our survival. We also risk falling into progress traps that have plagued civilisations since they began.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read this, 12 Feb 2009
By 
A. D. Coole (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Short History of Progress (Paperback)
This is an important book and should be read by everyone who is concerned with the human condition and our future on this planet.
Ronald Wright made me, for the first time, zoom out intellectually from the minutia of my day to day preoccupations (yes, even climate change) by giving a penetrating overview of our situation.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice easy introduction to the coming crisis of human civilisation, 20 Aug 2009
By 
This review is from: A Short History of Progress (Paperback)
A lot of overlap with Jhared Diamond's "Collapse", which is longer and more thorough - surprisingly neither book seems to reference the other, though both reference Joseph Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies". More detail on paleolithic catastrophes, less on more recent ones like the collapse of the Nordic civilisation in medieval Iceland.
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5.0 out of 5 stars smacks of the truth, 4 Mar 2014
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Brilliantly put together story of how human civilisation has reached its present state. Thought provoking, harrowing, depressing.....but incontrovertible in its conclusions. Required reading for everyone but especially for the people who have the power.....as he says, they too have children and grandchildren who will have to face the consequences of their decisions. Mr Wright is right.........we could learn from the mistakes of our forefathers, or we could carry on with our selfish, greedy and thoughtless heads in the sand.
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A Short History of Progress
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (Paperback - 28 Sep 2006)
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