The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization Paperback – 29 Dec 2004
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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, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Extremely readable and thought-provoking, this book should appeal to many people, including those concerned with global warming and its implications for the future."See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
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!
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. At the end of the good periods comes hardship and destruction, themes which have intensified as time progresses and populations grow. There are sober lessons to be learned from this book, and we had better start learning them.
Fagan has combined the scientific and the social brilliantly to produce an important contribution to debate and a gripping read.
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