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The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization First Edition Edition

4 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465022816
ISBN-10: 0465022812
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Amazon.com Review

A professor of anthropology by training, Fagan traces the effects of climactic change on civilizations over the past 15,000 years--a period of prolonged global warning that has only accelerated over the past 150 years. In particular, he's interested in how civilizations have responded to, or been radically altered by, changes in environment. One of Fagan's most compelling examples is his detailed history of the city of Ur, in what is now modern-day Iraq. Once a great city in one of the world's earliest civilizations, it first thrived thanks to abundant rainfall and then suffered even more severely when the Indian Ocean monsoons shifted southward, changing rain patterns. By 2000 B.C. its agricultural economy had collapsed, and today it is an abandoned landscape, an assemblage of decaying shrines in the harshest of deserts. Fagan views this event as pivotal. It was, he writes, "the first time an entire city disintegrated in the face of environmental catastrophe." But not, Fagan notes, the last. In his epilogue, which covers the last 800 years of human history, Fagan explores the climatic upheavals that left 20 million dead in famine-related epidemics in the 19th century. He notes that today 200 million people barely survive on marginal agricultural land in places such as northeastern Brazil, Ethiopia, and the Saharan Sahel. If temperatures rise much above current levels, and rising seas flood coastal plains, the devastation could dwarf any disaster humankind has previously known. Fagan doesn't offer easy solutions, but he presents a compelling history of climate's role in the background--and sometimes foreground--of human history. --Keith Moerer

From Publishers Weekly

Anthropologist Fagan engagingly presents an abundance of geological and archaeological evidence supporting the idea that human civilization has been shaped by significant climate change to a greater extent than previously thought. As in his other books, including The Little Ice Age, Fagan cushions his scientific data with absorbing historical narrative. The "long summer" of the title is the Holocene warming trend of the last 15,000 years, which has coddled humanity throughout recorded history. While scientists have always known that cycles of cooling and warming within this era have affected humans, only in the last part of the 20th century did they have detailed ice and sediment cores to provide evidence for specific events. Fagan uses the new information to authoritatively walk readers through the major climatic changes in human history, including droughts that led to the formation of the first cities, rainfall increases connected to the spread of bubonic plague, and volcanic eruptions that triggered disastrous cooling trends. Although often repetitive, these examples serve to prove without a doubt that humans have been increasingly vulnerable to climate change ever since we left a nomadic lifestyle for an agriculture-based one. Part cautionary tale and part historical detective story, this book encourages readers to appreciate the increasingly clear links between great weather changes and human society, politics and survival.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (December 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022816
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tim F. Martin on May 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
_The Long Summer_ by Brian Fagan is in essence a follow up of his excellent earlier work, _The Little Ice Age_, a book that explored the effect of a particular climatic episode on European civilization between the years 1300 and 1850. Fagan expanded his focus greatly in _The Long Summer_ as in this work he analyzed the effects of various climatic events since 18,000 B.C. on the course of Stone Age life, early farming societies, and the evolution of civilizations in Europe, southwest Asia, north Africa, and the Americas, covering climatically-influenced human history from the settlement of the Americas to the origins of the Sumerians to the conquest of Gaul by Rome (which was fascinating) through the end of the Mayan and Tiwanaku civilizations (in Central and South America respectively). As in _The Little Ice Age_, Fagan dismissed both those who discounted the role climatic change had played in transforming human societies and those who believed in environmental determinism (the notion that climate change was the primary cause of major developments in human civilization).

Fagan provided many examples of climatic change affecting human history. Between 13,000 and 8,000 B.C. Europe became covered in forest thanks to warming climates and retreating glaciers. This climatic change - and resulting alteration in the ecology of the region - lead to the extinction of the large and medium-sized herd animals that were the favored prey of the Cro-Magnons (such as the mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, giant deer, and reindeer) and their replacement by smaller, generally more dispersed game like red deer, wild boar, and aurochs.
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Format: Hardcover
The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization is another of Brian Fagan's volumes on the interaction of climate and human history. (Others I have read are the Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850, and Floods, Famines and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations). As with the others, this book chronicles the changes in climate throughout the globe and notes the changes effected in the human condition. Whether there is actually a direct correlation between the two or not it would be difficult to really prove since historic events are nonrepeatable, but the frequency with which major changes in human behavior have occurred when climate has shifted is certainly very suggestive. Like most such claims, however, there is probably more to the reality of the situation than is apparent from this distance. His topic, however, is not without significance for our own world, so I highly recommend reading it!
The author discusses El Nino, the Southern Oscillation, and the Gulf Stream "conveyor belt" and the effects of the introduction of increased fresh, cold water into it as he does in his other books. A more complete discussion of these phenomena was given in Little Ice Age, however, so if the reader is a little confused by the more limited introduction in this book or is simply curious about them, he/she should definitely read LIA for clarification.
Some of the author's points were not new to me. In particular I had read a collection of articles on the concept of human evolution as driven by continental drift and its effect on the Gulf Stream and climate. I have also recently read a book (Secrets of the Sands: The Revelations of Egypt's Everlasting Oasis), which discusses climate change and lifestyle, in this instance that in Egypt and its Oases.
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Fagan adds a new dimension to the failure of civilizations outside value reversals and psychological self-destruction posed by Brooks Adams, Spengler or de Tocqueville. Data from a variety of sources, not available until now, correlates with history the impacts of climate on civilization. Fagan opens with a curious personal experience - his small sailboat on treacherous Spanish waters, passed by cargo-laden hulks seemingly oblivious to nature's furry. This introduction becomes a wonderful analogy for the "scale of our vulnerability". As we complicate society and "tame" nature we also massively increase the calamity of nature's accumulating response. The Sumerian city of Ur becomes our first tour and what a tour it is. Fagan hits his stride, crystallizing his point when Sumerians are his centerpiece. Conceived around 6000 BCE as a collection of villages already employing canals for irrigation, the region suffered a monsoon shift driving Sumerians to increase organization through innovation. Hence, invention of the city by 3100 BCE. Volcanic induced climate shift eventually ran the Sumerian ship aground, as similar shifts did for others, not only starving the populous but dissolving faith in their gods, kings and way of life. But, Fagan writes, "The intricate equation between urban population, readily accessible food supplies and the economic, political and social flexibility sufficient to roll with the climatic punches has been irrevocably altered." "If Ur was a small trading ship, industrial civilization is a supertanker." And supertankers split in half now and then. The ability to simply return to farming or hunter gathering is now lost given that so many of us occupy the landscape, competing with everyone else under the same conditions.Read more ›
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