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The Population Bomb Paperback – May 1, 1970

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from cover: Population control or race to oblivion?

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 223 pages
  • Publisher: A SIERRA CLUB-BALLANTINE BOOK; 13th Printing edition (May 1, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000EI3XOS
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,550,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Richard Reese (author of Sustainable or Bust) on November 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich achieved infamy by publishing The Population Bomb, one of the most controversial eco-books ever printed. Ehrlich has been condemned to spend eternity with Thomas Malthus, in a dungeon reserved for doom perverts. To this day, professors still use the two lads as great reasons to never take seriously anyone who asserts that there are limits to growth. We all know, of course, that humankind has no limits. We have technology!

Actually, Malthus never predicted catastrophic famine. He simply stated the obvious — when population reaches overshoot, the death rate will automatically rise to restore balance, one way or another (starvation, disease, conflict). A thousand people cannot prosper if forced to share ten cheeseburgers a day. The overshoot ceiling rises when food is abundant, and falls when food is scarce. Malthus was not a doomer. His cardinal sin was declaring the obvious — that there are limits to growth.

Ehrlich, on the other hand, actually did predict catastrophic famine, and soon. The first lines in his book are, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Millions indeed starved, but not hundreds of millions. Everyone agrees that this prediction was inaccurate or premature.

When Ehrlich was writing, India was sliding toward catastrophic famine. Only ten nations produced more food than they consumed in 1966. In America, the postwar baby boom led to a freakish population spike of 55 million in 20 years. The streets of 1968 were jammed with scruffy rebels protesting the Vietnam War, and our totally unhip way of life.
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80 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Gallagher VINE VOICE on November 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
I read the Population Bomb when it first came out, and believed it. Paul Ehrlich envisioned a horrific future with mass starvation of millions, if not billions of people by 1995. As we now know, Ehrlich was a Malthusian of the worst order, and almost single-handedly gave environmentalists a bad name. He is the epitome of an alarmist who has significantly harmed the ability of reasonable environmentalists to be taken seriously (The Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome). I'm sure Dr. Ehrlich meant well, but boy, was he wrong. This book should rest in peace, never to be read again. Or, perhaps it could be read as a lesson learned in how to avoid making extremist statements that make you and your colleagues look stupid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 50 REVIEWER on January 26, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Paul Ralph Ehrlich (born 1932) is an American biologist (specializing in butterflies) at Stanford University, who is a prominent ecologist and demographer.

It is popular to discount Ehrlich, and particularly this book (which begins with the stark prediction that "In the 1970's the world will undergo famines---hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now"). It should be noted that he has substantially revised his predictions in later books such as The Population Explosion, Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, etc.

(It should also be noted that he admittedly lost his 1980 bet with conservative economist Julian Simon, about the trend of prices for certain metals.)

To be sure, his tone in this book was unduly "alarmist"; and his proposal to create a "stable optimum population size for the United States" (Pg. 135) certainly didn't anticipate the dramatic "Green Revolution" increases in agricultural production that would happen in the 1970s and later. His recommendation for "Proselytizing Friends and Associates" (e.g., praising childless people for their "selfless devotion to mankind" on pg. 185; telling families with two children that "two is plenty") seems almost ludicrous, in light of decreasing birth rates, later marriage dates, etc. His appeal to a variant of Pascal's Wager in the last chapter ("In other words, play it safe. If I'm right, we will save the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ecarter on July 17, 2015
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read this book when I was an undergrad. Ehrlich's predictions were alarmist and frightening, but I took them seriously. This book has not stood well after a test of decades of time. Most of Ehrlich's predictions proved to be baseless nonsense, somewhat similar to the alarmist predictions of Global-Warming/Climate-Change/Settled-Science "true believers." There is no such thing as "settled science." "Settled science" is political science, nothing more. Long after reading this book, I was a student of Julian Simon. I did no know about the bet he made with Ehrlich, because he never mentioned it in class. Simon was as modest as he was brilliant. One thing that Ehrlich did not take into account was human ingenuity. Human ingenuity was the basis for Simon's optimism. Time has proven Ehrlich to be wrong, and Simon to be right.
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