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Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse Hardcover – May 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William R. Catton, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Washington State University, has also taught and done research in Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the U.S. After World War II U.S. Navy service, he majored in history at Oberlin College and earned his the University of Washington. Research on wild land resource use and management led to his later focus upon principles of ecology. Bottleneck is a sequel to his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He has written more than a hundred journal articles and contributed book chapters, plus several dozen book reviews. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Xlibris (May 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441522417
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441522412
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,452,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in 1926, William R. Catton, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Washington State University where he participated in an interdepartmental Environmental Science Program. He has taught human ecology at WSU and elsewhere. He had taught various courses in sociology at Reed College, University of North Carolina, Oberlin College, University of Alberta (in Canada), University of Canterbury (in New Zealand), and University of Wyoming. In addition, he has given invited lectures at several universities in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Immediately after high school, Catton studied chemistry at Central Michigan College before serving aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier during the Second World War, and was wounded when his ship was disabled by a Kamikase attack. After the war he received his bachelor's degree in history in 1950 from Oberlin College. He is married to an Oberlin classmate. He studied creative writing at the University of New Hampshire, and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington.
He was co-author of an introductory sociology textbook, and author of From Animistic to Naturalistic Sociology, published in 1966. It was a sociological research interest in wildland recreation patterns that led to his later study of ecological concepts and principles.
He was elected Vice President of the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand, and president of the Pacific Sociological Association. The PSA gave him its 1985 Distinguished Scholarship Award for articles in its journal expanding on themes from his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. His other publications include more than a hundred journal articles (including most recently "Understanding Humanity's Damaged Future," Sociological Inquiry, vol. 79, November 2009: 509-522) and various contributed book chapters, plus several dozen book reviews.
Since retiring from WSU he has continued writing on ecological issues and has been studying the societal functions and dysfunctions of modern division of labor, leading to his latest book: Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse, published in 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By acerbas on September 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the sequel to Overshoot, written by Catton almost 30 years ago. As another reviewer mentioned, Overshoot should be read first, inasmuch as it is foundational in terms of understanding Bottleneck. Overshoot is a masterpiece; the most important book I have ever read (and I do a lot of reading) and one which truly altered the way in which I perceive the world. In comparison, Bottleneck falls somewhat short. It is rambling, prolix and pedantic; far from an easy read. That is why I can only award it 4 stars. Perhaps we might attribute some of its shortcomings to the fact that the author is now 83 years old. Nevertheless, it does build upon Overshoot and contains many valuable observations and insights, particularly with respect to the implications for developing public policy. Unfortunately, it is pretty much a given that the people who should be paying closest attention to Catton's recommendations, namely the politicians (and the people who pull their strings) are the ones who most benefit from the status quo and therefore are least likely to relinquish their outmoded understandings of how our little spaceship works. The human population has already greatly surpassed the sustainable long-term carrying capacity of the planet and short of Draconian measures a massive die-off is inevitable. Mamas don't let your kids have babies.

In the immortal words of Tonio K. [...]
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Philip P. Ardery on May 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Previous reviewers have recommended that prospective readers of Bottleneck start with Catton's Overshoot (1980). I agree, but I also affirm that a light acquaintance with Overshoot, easily achieved by online reading at Amazon and other sites, supplies sufficient foundation for full engagement with Bottleneck.

Bottleneck distills 30 years of Catton's efforts to better understand why Americans (and others) have not acted on knowledge whose application could have softened the impact of our overshooting Earth's carrying capacity. The book analyzes with fresh insights the interplay of labor specialization, money, and language in the modern era, revealing how we have arrived almost inevitably at "humanity's impending impasse" (the book's subtitle). I cannot adequately summarize that analysis here, but please know that it exposes unsustainable structural features in our behaviors and institutions too deep to be altered by our current systems of social organization and governance.

Even after continued drawdown forces humankind through our 21st century ecological bottleneck, there's no guarantee that survivors can or will avoid repeating our mistakes. That's a major reason why Catton spent years researching and writing this book. I can imagine that as he forswore an easy retirement, dedicating his energies to this project, he may have tacked to his office wall for inspiration Diderot's remark from the foreword to the 1765 edition of the French Encyclopedia: "Suppose that a revolution, whose seeds have sprouted in some remote region of the earth or may be germinating in the very center of a civilized country, should burst forth, destroy the cities, scatter the nations, and bring back ignorance and darkness. All will not be lost if a single complete edition of this work survives.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J S Powers on September 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This author's 1980 book 'Overshoot' was a tour-de-force. Technically spot-on, to the point and relentless in its presentation. Overshoot is a 'must-read' for any informed human being.

This book 'Bottleneck' rambles, digresses on everything from baseball minutea, a detailed history of 20th century sociology and sociologists, to children's fables and his family life. Most of us are too pressed for time to filter the useful information in this book from the extensive irrelevant digressions. Much of this, quite frankly, is probably due to the writer's advanced age at the time that this book was written, and poor editing. It is a catch-all college professor's memoirs jumbled around a serious subject.

Everything in 'Bottleneck' that is useful is a rehash of what the writer gave us in 'Overshoot'. Your time and money are much better spent pursuing that work. 'Overshoot' should be re-released under the title 'Bottleneck' and this effort should be scrapped.

And yes, I have read both books.

My hat is off to this writer. He has left behind a great work. But this book is not it.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Craig Warner on August 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William R. Catton is one of the great thought leaders of our century. Read this only after reading Overshoot, and realizing how his message from 1980 was prescient and positive.
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