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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 June 2008
This book is not exactly what I expected, viz., a historically factual and scientific description of a time between about 800 and 1300AD when the global temperatures were higher than previously and have not been as high again until recent times. There are a lot of very interesting correlations described between evidence of times of calmer, warmer weather and the rise of various civilizations around the world and the aiding of exploration across the oceans. Also the coincidence of adverse changes in climate as a consequence of warming, for example, droughts and the collapse of formerly highly organized and successful communities. What was a surprise for me in this book are the lengthly pieces of imaginative writing about life in different communities often using a fictitious person going about their daily tasks. I can see the merit of this as it gives a human touch to history that may make it more accessible and understandable to the reader. It was, at times, a bit too fanciful and florid in style of writing and made me feel the author is a frustrated novelist. Overall, though, it's a fascinating book that really brings home to one how climatic change can really change history,
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on 6 February 2014
What a nice surprise, I bought the book thinking it would be about global warming - but it turned into a fascinating read.

Recommend to anyone with some interest in humananity's past
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on 25 August 2013
I've read most of Brian Fagan's books, and he never fails to keep me absorbed. I recommend him to anyone.
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Climate change is a regular item in the news. Most articles and books look at the future - few address the past. While the human condition is a large consideration, real effects are not often dwelt on. Brian Fagan makes up for both these lacks in this finely researched and comprehensive study. In a framework centred on a millennium in the past, he takes us on a global tour of what is known as The Medieval Warm Period. Lasting for half a millennium, about 850 C.E. to 1300 C.E, Fagan shows us the importance of understanding the global nature of climate and its interconnected elements.

In Europe, the era was later named the High Middle Ages. Flourishing trade, wine grown in the British Isles and shipped to France [!] and the mighty cathedrals erected typified the period. Elsewhere, conditions weren't as salubrious. In the North American Southwest, drought brought to a close the civilisation of Chaco Canyon and toppled the great Mayan Empire. In Asia, the great Ankor Wat, built to symbolise a vast and rich realm, was abandoned to the jungle. China's peasant population, always at the edge of survival, was driven from their lands in many places by alternating extended droughts and torrential rainfalls stripping the soil. Even the Mongol Horde was prompted to move in what proved nearly catastrophic for Europe, driven by the need for grazing lands.

Enduring climate change has been a human consideration from the beginning. Even our evolutionary roots lie in the drying of Africa and the subsequent emergence of the savannah. In one sense, climate is what brought us the role of the one bipedal ape. The development of agriculture made us yet more vulnerable to shifts in climate, Fagan reminds us. Dependence on rainfall is the foundation of raising crops, alleviated only a little by irrigation canals. Irrigated farming plays a major role in this book, with the South American and other civilisations struggling with problems of water management. Those lacking such amenities, such as California Indians, suffered drastically when the severest droughts in thousands of years killed off natural food supplies.

Fagan's talent as a writer is equalled by his feeling for the human condition. In each region he describes, it's more than weather changes that he's concerned with. It's what that meant to the local population and how it reacted. The author uses a deft ploy to capture the reader's interest at the beginning of each section. He sets up a local scene with imaginary, but carefully defined, participants. The situation reflects the weather and social conditions, indicating how those interact to produce behaviours and adjustments.

At first glance, this book may seem merely a "history" with little meaning for today's conditions or those of the future. However, it is far from that - being instead a diagnosis for what is to come. Fagan concludes by reminding us of past population dislocations resulting from the great droughts. That pressure is certain to emerge again, and he asks how ready we are to deal with it. Although climate change is "normal", as the events of the Medieval Warm Period demonstrate, the population today is vastly larger than it was then. With the human contribution to warming accelerating the process, it will be billions of people affected by what is to come. In the earlier time, some people, such as the Chaco Canyon residents, had the ability to adjust, our capacity to follow their example is curtailed by our high density centres. This book is an overdue warning of what we, or our grandchildren, will be facing. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 29 July 2011
Fagan relates fascinatingly detailed evidence on medieval climate shifts to historic events around the world. He aligns data from pollen samples and lake sediments with the collapse of urban civilizations in Mexico and Cambodia, or the rise of nomadic empires like that of Genghis Khan. A picture emerges of what happens when temperatures rise as they are rising now. And the picture is not pretty. Over most of the world it involves drought and famine, with millions of refugees on the move. The vulnerability of civilization appears stark. And of course, "The analogies to modern-day California, with its aqueducts for water-hungry Los Angeles, or to cities such as Tucson, Arizona, with its shrinking aquifers and falling water table, are irresistible."

--BG, author of The Gardens of Their Dreams: Desertification and Culture in World History
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on 24 March 2009
though it is well and imaginatively written, and informative, ultimately I found this book rather frustrating. On one level it is a well-researched and historically accurate survey of the Medieval Warm Period world wide. The science of what causes climatic shifts is also well represented. But Fagan seems to feel the need to pay lip service to the current theories of global warming, although sometimes this flies in the face of the actual evidence he is surveying. I found this aspect of the book quite confusing, though it threw doubt more on today's theories than on the phenomena he is describing.
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