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A Short History of Progress Paperback – March 10, 2005
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The main resource is arable land which soon or late becomes exhausted. We exhaust the soil with continual planting, or we irrigate the soil until the salt content becomes so high that crops will not grow on it, and then we abandon it to the winds and move on. Or we pave it over with roads and buildings. There are exceptions of course, China and Egypt have maintained continuous civilizations for several millennia, but Wright argues they were able to do this because in the case of Egypt, the Nile continually revitalized the soil and prevented the Egyptians from building on it because of the yearly floods. In the case of China he argues that it was a fortuitous circumstance that allowed the Chinese to grow crop after crop on the same land for century after century because the land had topsoil hundreds of meters thick, blown there by ancient winds. Exhaust one layer, let it blow away. No problem, the next layer is fertile. Not so almost anyplace else in the world.
Wright begins before agriculture, which would be before civilization of course. The hunters and gathers of the Upper Paleolithic period, Wright avers, killed off their way of life in "an all-you-can-kill wildlife barbecue.Read more ›
My world travels and prior readings/videos has noted many aspects of what he talks about - but he puts it all together concisely and clearly. We keep running the same experiment over and over and it keeps ending in disaster, the only issue now is that the experiment is being run on the entire world now.
I've yet to read Collapse by Jared Diamond, but after only getting half way through Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD is easy to watch), I'm glad Mr.Wright provides an accessible alternative.
The author's sole recommendation is to state the shift from short term to long term thinking - this sounds great in theory, but has rarely been heeded outside of some indigenous groups and a couple of nations (See below). Perhaps more insightful would be to address an even darker subject - Self Deception. I *highly* recommend - Why We Lie by David Livingstone Smith. Hope and fear arise out of self-deception. Learning about right-brain/left-brain imbalance is insightful too. Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind is another insightful read on this too.
For the DVD minded - I recommend: Globe Trekker - Great Historic Sights (A veritable tour of the graveyards of 'our' greatest cities and societies), National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth, Charcoal People, Atomic Cafe, Orwell Rolls in his Grave (US-300 million and ONLY two political parties?!!), and Persuaders. The fictional movie Rapa Nui with Jason Scott Lee might be interesting too.
For the travel minded - visit Scandinavia and understand their way of thinking - therein lies the answer.Read more ›
This book is a look at the same issues for our modern perspective (what will go through the mind of the person buying the last gallon of gas) by considering several premier examples of disasters past. In contrast to Diamond's book 'Collapse' it is short and sharp. This leaves some loose ends but I found the brevity encouraged an uninterrupted read and a better overview than the longer 'Collapse' which is heavier on ecology and details and shorter on politics. The end notes and references are useful additions and point out some very nice 'places to go'.
An essential read, and a nice complement to Diamonds effort.
Other reviews say he doesn't present a plan. That would be a lot to ask in a slim book (a third of which is notes). However it is clear what he has in mind: population control, increased democracy, decreased gap between the rich and the poor, decreased overall consumption/resource use and sustainable agricultural practices (and he would be the first to note that some of these are difficult to make compatible). Mostly, he is not optimistic about our ability to change course. He does, however, hold out hope that it is not yet too late (but almost).
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wright discourses eloquently on the most urgent issues of our day (the raging market economy, causing global warming, overpopulation, food shortages, poverty, environmental... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Abner Rosenweig
This is one of my favorite books. Both the ideas and language are impressive.Published 2 months ago by Hongyang Dong
Anyone who cares about the future of the human race should read this book. It should be required reading in every high school in America.Published 3 months ago by Andrew L. Kitzmiller
Originally presented as CBC's Massey Lecture Series, Wright condenses everything we need to know how and why we are destroying our planet with wild abandon. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Candon
This is an impressive quick read. I hate to be the kind of person preaching on Doom's Day, but I do find the definition of progress to be a multi-faceted, direct correlation to... Read morePublished 5 months ago by phamv
A short and excellent alternate take on progress - a must read for anyone concerned about our civilization experiment.Published 7 months ago by Gabriel Zee
Please read it. So clear, so concise, so relevant, so thought provoking and so true. The best book I have read in a long timePublished 10 months ago by Jane O'Shea
Have not even started to read the book yet, but I am required to read this for class at my university and I'm sure it is going to be a very interesting read, I am just letting you... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Justin Gehr