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Customer Review

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - but frustrating, May 3, 2010
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This review is from: A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (Paperback)
In an age of specialization, the author provides a much-needed (and brilliant) general overview of man's impact on the planet. It is hard to imagine anyone, after reading this book, seriously arguing that the western lifestyle (and especially the American lifestyle) can be sustained much longer. We may succeed in hanging on for a few more years (especially if we manage to keep developing countries from attaining our own living standards), but it seems unlikely that our nationalistic political systems will be able to agree and implement the necessary global solutions (whatever those may be - it is not clear that there are any) in time.

This is an immensely valuable analysis, but I think that it is a 5-star topic hiding within a 3-star book. Let me give two reasons:
1. It is virtually impossible to substantiate his arguments without reading the extensive bibliography, a daunting task. For example, when he states that, in energy efficiency, "The United States is still 60 per cent less efficient than Italy and Japan", he needs a citation to support the statement. This applies throughout the book. My own writing has been concerned with global water and sanitation issues, and I know how easy it is to have a document which is more footnotes than text, but without references I cannot really make use of or defend any of his important statements.
2. As another reviewer has commented, the book needed a strong editor. I have not read the earlier (1991) version of this book, and so cannot make comparisons, but much of the book is so well written, and other parts so badly, that it feels as if the earlier version was very well edited, and then the updates were inserted on a word processor. The early chapters in particular have too many sentences with "and" linking ideas which need to be treated separately, and he is very sparing with punctuation which would have made the sense clearer. The acid test is reading the text aloud; often you will hesitate because you need to read to the end of the sentence before you can clearly identify its structure and subordinate clauses and hence the underlying ideas. A good editor would also have caught matters such as neutral pH being given as 6.5, the map accompanying the discussion on Sumer and its principal settlement, Uruk, omitting both names, and various typos. This may seem like nit-picking, but I had to struggle to get through the beginning of the book, and then was rewarded by the much higher quality later on.

I certainly do not regret buying the book, which has given me a much broader understanding of our present problems and the way we got where we are (he is particularly strong on the impact of colonialism and its modern-day successors) - but if you want to engage in serious debate with proponents of "business as usual" you will need many more hard facts to make your case.
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Initial post: Sep 27, 2014 9:20:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 27, 2014 9:28:50 PM PDT
I'm reading "Creating the Third World" chapter of the book for college. I found two mistakes:
1) P.115 Paragraph II: Rainforests covered 30 million acres of this former French colony in 1956, but only to* million acres by the late 1970s when over 10 million acres a year were being cleared.

*Should be two (2) million.

2) He mispelled Mauritania (African country) with Mauretania (a tribal kingdom of the Mauri people on the Mediterranean coast of north Africa, from at least the 3rd century BC).

Its confusing if you do not know geography will and want to follow what region of the world Ponting is referring to.

Besides that, there is a lot of great information here! Too bad for the distraction of poor editing.
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