From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Demography is destiny. But not always in the way we imagine, begins Pearce (When the Rivers Run Dry
) in his fascinating analysis of how global population trends have shaped, and been shaped by, political and cultural shifts. He starts with Robert Malthus, whose concept of overpopulation—explicitly of the uneducated and poor classes—and depleted resources influenced two centuries of population and environmental theory, from early eugenicists (including Margaret Sanger) to the British colonial administrators presiding over India and Ireland. Pearce examines the roots of the incipient crash in global population in decades of mass sterilizations and such government interventions as Mao's one child program. Many nations are breeding at less then replacement numbers (including not only the well-publicized crises in Western Europe and Japan, but also Iran, Australia, South Africa, and possibly soon China and India). Highly readable and marked by first-class reportage, Pearce's book also highlights those at the helm of these vastly influential decisions—the families themselves, from working-class English families of the industrial revolution to the young women currently working in the factories of Bangladesh. (Apr.)
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Angst about overpopulation has been a staple of apocalyptic prediction since Thomas Malthus warned in the early 1800s of too many mouths and too little food. The worry is essentially unjustified, maintains Pearce, who critiques Malthus and his successors in a work perhaps most pertinent to environmentalists. For he is one in good standing as author of many books about climate change (When the Rivers Run Dry, 2006), and he recognizes that environmentalists have been in the forefront of population-control advocacy at least since the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1969). Pearce makes his case on the grounds of demography, beginning with a historical review that emphasizes promoters of controlling the number of births, namely eugenicists and contraceptive campaigners. A world traveler, Pearce visits regions of undeniably high contemporary population growth—India, Bangladesh, and Africa—and adduces anecdotes to support the statistical trends that he describes. The signs all point toward world population cresting soon, with Pearce citing declining fertility rates, aging baby boomers, and migration in this optimistic perspective. --Gilbert Taylor