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Customer Review

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of "Progress Traps" and inflexible thinking, 16 Oct. 2008
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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Location: Whitehaven, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 245