Everybody knows the Dark Ages weren't really dark, right? Not so fast, counters archaeological journalist David Keys, maybe it's more than just a slightly judgmental metaphor. His book Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World
, based on years of careful research spanning five continents, argues that sometime in A.D. 535, a worldwide disaster struck and uprooted nearly every culture then extant. Given contemporary reports of the sun being blotted out or weakened for nearly a year and a half, followed by famine, drought, and plague, it's hard not to think that so many reports from all over the world must be related.
Keys shows a keen grasp of both the written historical record from Asia, Africa, and Europe and the archaeological evidence from the Americas, and tells many tales of great havoc destroying old empires and laying the ground for new ones. Rome may have fallen, but Spain, England, and France rose in its place, while farther east, Japan and China each unified and gained strength after the chaos. Could an enormous volcanic eruption have had such influence on the world as a whole, and could the same thing happen tomorrow? Catastrophe makes no predictions, but leaves the reader with a new sense of history, nature, and destiny. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
In Keys's startling thesis, a global climatic catastrophe in A.D. 535-536--a massive volcanic eruption sundering Java from Sumatra--was the decisive factor that transformed the ancient world into the medieval, or as Keys prefers to call it, the "proto-modern" era. Ancient chroniclers record a disaster in that year that blotted out the sun for months, causing famine, droughts, floods, storms and bubonic plague. Keys, archeology correspondent for the London Independent, uses tree-ring samples, analysis of lake deposits and ice cores, as well as contemporaneous documents to bolster his highly speculative thesis. In his scenario, the ensuing disasters precipitated the disintegration of the Roman Empire, beset by Slav, Mongol and Persian invaders propelled from their disrupted homelands. The sixth-century collapse of Arabian civilization under pressure from floods and crop failure created an apocalyptic atmosphere that set the stage for Islam's emergence. In Mexico, Keys claims, the cataclysm triggered the collapse of a Mesoamerican empire; in Anatolia, it helped the Turks establish what eventually became the Ottoman Empire; while in China, the ensuing half-century of political and social chaos led to a reunified nation. Huge claims call for big proof, yet Keys reassembles history to fit his thesis, relentlessly overworking its explanatory power in a manner reminiscent of Velikovsky's theory that a comet collided with the earth in 1500 B.C. Readers anxious about future cataclysms will take note of Keys's roundup of trouble spots that could conceivably wreak planetary havoc. Maps. BOMC and QPBC selections. (Feb.)
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