Monday, September 22, 2008

If you liked Jared Diamond, you will like Brian Fagan

by Tyson Bolles

If you liked Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel, then you will love Brian Fagan.

The last time the world was as warm as today was during the medieval warming period (800-1300 AD.). Dr. Brian Fagan, an anthropologist with expertise in human prehistory, integrates climate with world history in his book The Great Warming : Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. Dr. Fagan is a great at recreating past societies and pulling the reader into the lives of the people of the past. Explaining what we know and how we know it without losing the general reader in scientific minutia is another thing I like about this book. The Great Warming is world history at its best.

Tyson Bolles is a reference librarian at the Wellesley Free Library. When not muttering to himself while reading a book review, or banging the keyboard in the hopes of producing a readable article he can be found painting on a Cape Cod beach.

Book Summary
From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries the earth experienced a rise in surface temperature that changed climate worldwide—a preview of today’s global warming. In some areas, including Western Europe, longer summers brought bountiful harvests and population growth that led to cultural flowering. In the Arctic, Inuit and Norse sailors made cultural connections across thousands of miles as they traded precious iron goods. Polynesian sailors, riding new wind patterns, were able to settle the remotest islands on earth. But in many parts of the world, the warm centuries brought drought and famine. Elaborate societies in western and Central America collapsed, and the vast building complexes of Chaco Canyon and the Mayan Yucatan were left empty. As he did in his bestselling The Little Ice Age, anthropologist and historian Brian Fagan reveals how subtle changes in the environment had far-reaching effects on human life, in a narrative that sweeps from the Arctic ice cap to the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. The history of the Great Warming of a half millennium ago suggests that we may yet be underestimating the power of climate change to disrupt our lives today—and our vulnerability to drought, writes Fagan, is the “silent elephant in the room.”

Brian Fagan is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara

No comments: