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The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 Paperback – Dec 27 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (Dec 27 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022723
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022724
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #109,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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"Climate change is the ignored player on the historical stage," writes archeologist Brian Fagan. But it shouldn't be, not if we know what's good for us. We can't judge what future climate change will mean unless we know something about its effects in the past: "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". And Fagan's story of the last thousand years, centered on the "Little Ice Age," reminds us of what we could end up repeating: flood, fire, and famine--acts of God exacerbated by acts of man.

For all that he takes a broad--a very broad--view of European history, Fagan's writing is laced with human faces, fascinating anecdotes, and a gift for the telling detail that makes history live, very much in the style of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror. When Fagan talks about the voyages of Basque fishermen to American shores (probably landing before Columbus sailed), he puts in the taste of dried cod and the terrifying suddenness of fogs on the Grand Banks. The Great Fire of London, what it was like when the Dutch dikes broke, the Irish Potato Famine, the year without a summer, ice fairs on the Thames, and volcanoes in the South Pacific--Fagan makes history a ripping yarn in which we are all actors, on a stage that has always been changing. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The role of climatic change in human history remains open to question, due in large part to scant data. Fagan, professor of archeology at UC Santa Barbara, contributes substantively to the increasingly urgent debate. Contending with the dearth of accurate weather records from a few parts of the world, for little over a century Fagan (Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Ni?o and the Fate of Civilizations) draws discerning connections between an amazing array of disparate sources: ice cores, tree rings, archeological digs, tithing records that show dates of wine harvests, cloud types depicted in portraits and landscapes over time. He details human adaptation to meteorologic events for example, the way the Dutch, in the face of rising sea levels, engineered sea walls and thus increased their farmland by a third between the late 16th and early 19th centuries. Explanations of phenomena like the North Atlantic Oscillation (which "governs... the rain that falls on Europe") lucidly advance Fagan's conviction that, though science cannot decide if the current 150-year warming trend (with one slight interruption) is part of a normal cycle, we should err on the side of caution. His study of the potential for widespread famine further bolsters his nonpartisan argument for a serious consideration of rapid climatic shifts. But Fagan doesn't proffer a sociopolitical polemic. He notes that we lack the political will to effect change, but refrains from speculating on future environmental policy. Illus. not seen by PW. (Mar. 1) Forecast: This topical book will appeal to fans of John McPhee, as well as to science and history scholars. With publicity targeted at the coasts (author tour in L.A., San Francisco and N.Y.; a talk at N.Y.'s Museum of Natural History), a forthcoming review in Discovery magazine and Fagan's enthusiastic readership, it should sell well.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
The fog lies close to the oily, heaving water, swirling gently as a bitterly cold air wafts in from the north. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Boris Bangemann on April 16 2003
Format: Paperback
Brian Fagan claims that "we can now track the Little Ice Age as an intricate tapestry of short-term climatic shifts that rippled through European society during times of remarkable change - seven centuries that saw Europe emerge from medieval fiefdom and pass by stages through the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the Enlightenment, the French and Industrial revolutions, and the making of modern Europe."
The interesting question is to what extent did these climatic shifts alter the course of European history?
In some distinct cases, in my opinion, the answer is quite clear-cut. Norse settlement in Greenland, for example, became impossible because of the cooler temperatures after the 13th century. Famine in rural areas throughout the Middle Ages was also an undisputed consequence of sudden weather shifts. The damage done to the Spanish Armada in 1588 by two savage storms is patently climatic in origin, too.
In most cases, however, the climate is just one - mostly minor - factor out of many that contributed to the occurrence of major historical events like the French Revolution, for example. Fagan rightly calls climatic change "a subtle catalyst." Finally, if we look at historical developments that unfolded over centuries - like the Renaissance or the making of modern Europe - the influence of the climate does not explain anything.
A book like Fagan's "The Little Ice Age" is most interesting for historians who examine grass roots history, such as the daily lives of farmers and fishermen in the Middle Ages. At first I thought the climate would provide answers for economic historians, too. But as Fagan shows, the human response to deteriorating weather differs widely from region to region.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on April 17 2002
Format: Paperback
Since I had found Brian Fagan's book Floods, Famines and Emperors very thought provoking, I decided to read his more recent book The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850. I was not disappointed.
Professor Fagan carries on a tradition (which he freely admits was discredited in the past but is now enjoying a renaissance because of newer information) of viewing history through the eyes of a paleoclimatologist. Much of what he had said in the earlier text, namely that many of mankind's major social and cultural transitions have been climate and weather driven, made a good deal of sense to me. Episodes such as the Sea People's invasion of the ancient Levant with the ultimate collapse of the Hittite empire and the reduction of the Egyptian during the late second millennium B.C.E. have long been thought to have been the result of droughts experienced in northern Europe. Similarly the demise of the Moche in Peru, of the Mayan civilizations in Middle America, and of the pueblo cultures in the Southwestern US are believed to have been the result of el Nino/la Nina weather changes, massive rains in the case of the Moche and severe drought in the latter two cases. Although no one would say that any of these historic human changes occurred purely in response to climate, it is abundantly apparent that the economic impact of especially prolonged climate changes on large subsistence level populations tend to leave the more inflexible social systems at great risk.
The earlier book described the probable role of el Nino/ la Nina cycles on world climate, while more briefly discussing the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and it's effects. It was also concerned with much earlier cultures.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By H.S. Cross on Sept. 29 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a lay reader with a history background I found the early parts of this book useful because they 1) Informed me about European & North American climate trends from the early middle ages on; 2) Demonstrated the impact of climate on historical development. I also enjoyed reading about several of the major climate events he describes. However, as the book proceeds, his thesis does not develop much further. I got the impression of "more of the same with new data." He also has trouble balancing data with analysis. I skimmed the second half of the book because I wasn't that interested in the minutia he presented. I was convinced by his overall research (global warming notwithstanding), but I wished his analysis went further.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey R. Elver on March 19 2002
Format: Paperback
Mr. Fagan has chosen an interesting topic that gives a fresh perspective on historical issues. Many of his insights are original and quite astute. I think if he had disciplined himself to report the historical facts in a well ordered many, then drew on some of the scientific issues surrounding climate change, he would have produced a fine scholarly and entertaining book.
Such was not the case. Mr. Fagan lacks proficient quantitative skills from which to analyze the data he presents. The readers first forewarning of this comes in the author's notes, when he advises readers that 10 miles is the equivalent of 6 kilometers. Throughout the text he makes reference to advance statistical modeling, giving the impression that such analytical work has the value of de facto evidence. This is not the case. Climate forecasting is among the most complex application of statistical analysis to be conducted in present times, and is highly conflicting and inaccurate. I don't think Mr. Fagan understands this.
He also can't resist inserting his opinions on climate change in areas that should have been left purely to explanations of historical fact. These occational bald assertions are left to dangle, unconnected to the topic at hand, damaging the credibility of the text.
The book does not transition smoothly from topic to topic, and he rarely draws clear conclusions from the information he presents. As a result, I continually found myself confused about where the author was going, and what he was trying to say. For me it was a hard book to get through. From America's leading writer on archaeology --that's what is says on the book jacket-- I would have expected a more well ordered thought process.
Parts of the book were truly interesting, but be forewarned, it wasn't an easy read.
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