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

3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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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: 1.9 x 14 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #41,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
In this fascinating book, Professor Fagan introduces something of a climactic history of Europe. The first chapter covers the Medieval Warm Period of 900 to 1300 AD, when Greenland supported a thriving dairy-producing economy, and when French vintners sought protection against the import of fine English wines! Also sprinkled through the book are references to a Mini-Ice Age that extended from 500 to 900 AD, and an earlier warm period extending from 100 to 400 AD.
The second chapter chronicles the traumatic ordeal that Europe experienced as the planet cooled and weather took on new, harsher patterns. The author then continues on to document the tribulations of Little Ice Age Europe, and the changes that the new environment spurred. In the final chapter, the end of the Little Ice Age is covered, along with the author's thoughts on Global Warming.
This book is absolutely fascinating. Most history books do not mention the climate, except as background. Professor Fagan, on the other hand, rightly shows how the climate can be a major factor. The book is easily read (and not academic in tone), and very informative.
I must admit that this book has changed some of my opinions on Global Warming, and given me a great deal to think about. I am fascinated by the apparent yo-yoing of global temperatures throughout history, and hope to find a book that looks at the subject over a longer timeframe. This is a great book, and I recommend it to everyone.
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Format: Hardcover
Major climatic events impact history. Most of the time the impacts are short lived although severe at the time, e.g. the class 4 and 5 hurricanes that batter the U.S. Rare are the events that though short lived, have long term consequences, e.g. the bitter winters that contributed to Napoleon's and Hitler's ill-fated invasions of Russia. Or the storms that sank the Spanish Armada. Rarer still are climatic events that are themselves long-lived and have profound historical repercussions for human societies. Brian Fagan has now produced two books about these latter type of events - an earlier book about the impacts of el Nino, and the present book on the period of intense cold that gripped Europe and much of the rest of the world for about a 500 year period that ended in the middle of the 19th century. Although the writing occasionally appears hasty, or to suffer from rather incomplete editing, this is a story well told. Fagan draws upon extensive historical documents, both formal and informal, to describe the impact of a climate that not only was on average somewhat colder than that of the 20th century, but also highly variable. Indeed, the often rapid and large swings in temperature and rainfall appear to have had a severer effect on human societies than the cold itself. After all, once you know that it is going to be colder or hotter than average - and stay that way - you can take appropriate measures (at least within certain limits). But wide and unpredictable swings in temperature and precipitation can have devastating effects. Fagan is able to convey these effects in a very personal way. Fagan concludes with thoughts on the potential effects of the present global warming.Read more ›
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