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Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century Hardcover – April 30, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the books I found most informative and most perversely enjoyable this year is Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis:  War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. It deserves, and rewards, careful reading."—Jane Smiley, Harper's (Jane Smiley Harper's)

"Mr. Parker tells [the story] with verve. . . . [his] novel interpretation, emphasizing climate instead of individual agency, helps to explain socio-economic change and revolution in ways that future historians will inevitably have to take into account."—Wall Street Journal
(Wall Street Journal)

"The author sets out to examine a century in which weather patterns radically altered and political, social and economic crises seemed to engulf every part of the world. What relationship does a changing climate bear to global stability? There could scarcely be a more timely question to ask. Parker deploys a dazzling breadth of scholarship in answering it."—Dan Jones, The Times
(Dan Jones The Times 2013-07-06)

“In his monumental new book . . . Parker’s approach is systematic and painstaking . . . giv[ing] us a rich and emotionally intense sense of how it felt to live through chaotic times.”—Lisa Jardine, Financial Times
(Lisa Jardine Financial Times)

Received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the European & World History category.
(PROSE Awards American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence 2014-02-07)

Winner of the Society for Military History 2014 Distinguished Book Award for the best book-length publication in English on non-United States military history.
(Distinguished Bok Award Society for Military History 2014-02-14)

Global Crisis is a magnum opus that will remain a touchstone in three areas for at least a generation: the history of the entire globe, the role of climate in history, and the identification of a major historical crisis in the seventeenth century . . . Wide-ranging, monumental works of history are rare; this is one of them.”—Theodore K. Rabb, Times Literary Supplement
(Theodore K. Rabb Times Literary Supplement)

“In this vast, superbly researched and utterly engrossing book, Parker shows how climate change pushed the world towards chaos . . . Parker’s book is not merely powerful and convincing, it is a monument to scholarly dedication.”—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times
(Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times 2013-03-24)

Global Crisis is the production of a scholar. . .who has reflected on what he knows long enough to take on the double task of synthesis and breakthrough. . .Parker regales the reader with some wild and grim tales, interleaved with thoughtful reflections from those who lived through the crises. A more genial geode to disaster one couldn’t hope to find. We shall need more of these in the future.”—Timothy Brook, Literary Review
(Timothy Brook Literary Review 2013-07-01)

“[T]his monumental work by the distinguished historian Geoffrey Parker . . . is a formidable piece of scholarship that goes beyond it’s evident grand scale and ambition as a work of synthesis . . . This book is scholarly and readable, bursting with fully documented examples and authoritative coverage of a vast swathe of 17th-century history, written on a broad canvas but accessible and compelling. It represents a worthy distillation of several decades of Parker’s scholarship, and should provide food for thought for academic historians and interested readers alike.” —Penny Roberts, BBC History Magazine
(Penny Roberts BBC History Magazine 2013-06-01)

“This is indeed a superb and harrowing book, well worth reading for the skill with which Parker summarises the history of pretty well the whole world . . . a fascinating contribution to history.” —Christopher Booker, The Spectator
(Christopher Booker The Spectator 2013-06-01)

“The clarity with which Parker, a British historian, has assembled a wealth of material makes this long book difficult to put down. The entire world of the 1660s seems only a heartbeat away.” —Patricia Anderson, The Australian
(Patricia Anderson The Australian 2013-10-12)

"A must read that shows how climate change 350 years ago can serve as a harbinger of the possible human consequences of today's rapidly changing climate. Essential. All levels/libraries."—Choice

“[A] staggeringly researched, rivetingly written and intellectually dazzling book. . . I expect it to be read and debated for decades to come.”—The Sunday Times
(The Sunday Times 2013-11-24)

 “A work of formidable erudition and scope from a renowned British authority on early modern history.”—The Financial Times
(Financial Times 2013-11-30)

“My big book of the year has been Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis on the disastrous war-torn 17th century. It fills in gaps, gives different perspectives – not least on Scotland during the Civil War – and opens new areas of history to explore.”—Catriona Graham, The Guardian
(Catronia Graham The Guardian 2013-12-28)

"....a brilliant and mulifaceted approach to the global 17th century."Robert E. Scully, S.J., America Magazine
(Robert E. Scully, S.J. America)

Winner of a 2014 British Academy Medal.
(Medal The British Academy 2014-06-23)

'This is a colossal book, literally and metaphorically. Reading it reminded me of the exhilaration of first reading Braudel's Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II.  Parker's book has the same combination of rich detail, global reach and a simple but powerful argument that can change how we see an entire period.  Like Braudel's, Parker's writing is deft, vivid and rich enough to carry the reader along on the book's grand tour of the chilly, conflict-ridden world of the "General Crisis"'.—David Christian, Macquarie University (Sidney, Australia), Journal of Military History
(David Christian Journal of Military History)

'It is rare that one reads a history book so compelling and so stimulating that one forgets to eat, but that was my experience with Geoffrey Parker’s magnificent Global Crisis, a magisterial, near 900-page study of the world in the 17th century that centres on the relationship between climate and human conflict.'—Paul Lay, History Today
(Paul Lay History Today 2013-08-01)

"Parker’s great book challenges all future political and military historians to integrate the study of tree rings and glacier cores into their work. And it challenges his readers to think hard about whether humanity in the 21st century will be any less vulnerable than it was in the 17th to sudden disruptions of the environment on which we depend for our subsistence fully as much as did our ancestors of 400 years ago."—David Frum, senior editor, Atlantic, Best Books of 2014
(David Frum Atlantic)

"Parker’s book amounts to a heady challenge for all historians of the early modern world, none of whom have put as much stock in climate variables, and few of whom can write about the big picture with the authority that he brings."—J.R. McNeill, Public Books
(J.R. McNeill Public Books)

"This colossal study accomplishes something the epics of Gilgamesh and Noah never could; It convincingly links a truly global climate disaster to an epidemic of wars and rebellions that shook the whole world."—American Historical Review
(American Historical Review)

About the Author

The winner of the 2012 Heineken Prize for History, Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History and Associate of the Mershon Center at The Ohio State University. He lives in Columbus, OH.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 904 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300153236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300153231
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 2.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This very interesting and well written book is an ambitious survey of the traumatic 17th century. Parker is an expert on 17th century Europe who has written previously on this and quite a number of related topics. This book is a successful attempt to summarize a huge amount of historial information about the 17th century across the globe and draws not only on the very large range of secondary literature but also an impressive number of primary sources. Parker is a fine writer and shrewd analyst.

Even by the turbulent standards of human history, the 17th century was a particularly deadly period. While no one can know for certain, its plausible that somewhere between a quarter and a third of humanity in Eurasia perished prematurely across the 17th century. Famine, disease, and a great deal of prolonged conflict characterized the 17th century. This includes such well known events as the 30 Years War in Europe and the Ming-Qing transition in China. Parker describes 5 interacting features that drove the disasters of the 17th century. This is the period of the Little Ice Age (LIA), which resulted in diminished agricultural output and frequent harvest failures across the globe. Parker points out that the relatively benign 16th century had seen considerable population growth putting greater numbers of people at risk for subsistence crises. Important interacting human factors were the growth across Eurasia of states powerful enough to support substantial and destructive armies but not powerful or rich enough to produce centralized states that could mitigate the environmental and military challenges of the period.
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Culminating decades of research, this gargantuan tome should enjoy a similarly long life. The core ideas aren't exactly new (so let's say 4.5 stars); cf. earlier work by Jean and Richard Grove, HH Lamb, Brian Fagan. But it's now authoritative on 17C crises. Though Parker is most at home in his original European specialty, "GC" is genuinely global in scope with much to offer on other regions. It's truly inter/multidisciplinary history, but readable style helps make scientific and technical details accessible. One nice treat is having illustrations keyed to page numbers, to find further information swiftly. There are drawbacks: the (well-organized) avalanche of data will deter some readers, not least because this is an analytical study, not a narrative. More important, it is hard to conclusively prove causation between macro-level -- ENSOs, drought, famine, etc -- and micro-level events like wars and revolts. Overall, Parker is persuasive in making connections and avoiding determinism, though specialists will weigh in as needed. This is also present-minded scholarship, as Parker recounts varied responses to natural and political disaster. Some, like state grain reserves, provided crucial food relief. Others are more disturbing, like state repression to counter unrest. But proper knowledge of this earlier "time of troubles" can help prepare for current and future challenges. Will we learn in time?
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This book tells the story of the 17th century with its chaos, famine, revolutions, harsh weather and wars, and does in an all-encompassing look across the globe.

Much of this story has been told before either in works focusing on individual areas, or as a whole.

The premise underlying this retelling is that harsh and unusual weather/climate had a greater role in triggering the political upheaval than heretofore appreciated.

There is no doubt that the climate was severe based on historical records and observations, and that it resulted in famine, population decrease etc.

It's a little less clear to what extent the climate triggered the political events. The author interjects the climatic variables into the historical story and suggests they played a role but at times it's not clear whether the climatic effects were causal, correlated, or simply co-existed.

So we hear that cold, heat, drought, floods played into the historical events, but in some instances they are interjected into the currency of the events, which is no more meaningful than to acknowledge that while the unusually early and cold winter halted Napolean's and Hitler's attempt to conquer Russia, that the winters were in any way causal of their invasions rather than correlated or co-existent.

In most cases the author attempts to find and indicate causality but the lines do get blurred as to what was causal or coincidental, as the book repeatedly interject into the narrative that 'it was the coldest, hottest, driest, wettest' etc,; points out the disruption and famine that was undoubtedly caused by these changes and infers theeir connections as causative cause rather than an harsh but co-existent modifier of the events.
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This is a great work; it will stand as a major history of human beings dealing with multiple crises. I have to disagree with those who say it's "not for the beach" just because it's long. It is so well and compellingly written that it served me well on a long vacation. Infinitely better than those horrible long novels people take with them.
My one problem is that Dr. Parker does not really prove a case that climate caused the revolutions and wars. He stops a bit short of saying it did. He correlates wars and rebellions with the horrible climate events of the Little Ice Age, but--in a particularly good section of the book--notes that the awful climate events continued well into the 18th century, but the wars didn't. In fact, the 18th century begat the Enlightenment, partly in reaction to all those wars in the 17th. So, in fact, climate problems sometimes go with wars and sometimes go with revolutions and sometimes with neither one. Not much hope of causal chains there.
In some cases, the wars were predictable long before the climate turned bad. The Ming Dynasty's survival till 1644 was a still-unexplained miracle; it was rotten and tottering by 1550 (or even 1500) and would surely have fallen in the 17th century, climate or no. The religious wars of Europe were also a long time coming; they started in the 1200s with the Albigensian Crusade and got steadily more serious as Protestantism appeared. The climax in the 17th century was fairly predictable.
So, how much does climate explain? It certainly made people more desperate. It certainly displaced millions, and displaced people have much less vested interest in peace than stably located ones. We will need a lot more studies.
Of course, Parker is writing with an eye to our current period of rapid climatic change. I expect that we will see either lots of wars or lots of action to stop climate change. Possibly both. Dr. Parker provides a scary scenario of what might happen (again).
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