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The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations Hardcover – February 7, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Linden, who has been writing about the environment for 20 years (The Future in Plain Sight), is angry that, despite compelling scientific consensus, American politicians aren't facing up to the climate change that is upon us, and he's frustrated that the public isn't forcing them to do so. Such slowpoke acceptance of an inevitability, Linden argues in this articulate polemic, is rooted in the fact that "it has been our good fortune to prosper... during one of the most benign climate periods"—but one that, if past worldwide weather cycles do portend the future, is fast coming to an end, with severe cultural and political consequences. Linden draws his conclusion from millennia of historical evidence, including the relatively recent Little Ice Age, starting in the 14th century, that wiped out Norse settlers in Greenland; more recently, a fierce El Niño in 1876–1878 precipitated droughts that killed millions, and another in 1997– 1998—the most powerful ever recorded and a "taste of things to come"—cost the world economy $100 billion. Several chapters explaining the science of climate change will be hard going for lay readers, but the author's passion for the world to comprehend a coming catastrophe helps propel his alarming narrative. B&w illus. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Environmental journalist Linden considers how adaptable human societies are to alterations in weather. He offers several examples of societies that drastically deteriorated, such as Greenland's Norse settlements in 1350, Central America's Mayan civilization around 950, modern Syria's Akkadian Empire circa 2200 B.C.E., as well as other casualties. Traditional archaeology, Linden reports, has had to incorporate the very vibrant field of paleoclimatology, whose means for determining past climates (ice cores, ocean sediments, oxygen isotope ratios, etc.) Linden crisply summarizes. He also rescues scholars' debates from the esoteric by embedding them in research about contemporary climate and its major factors, such as solar energy, the earth's axial tilt and orbit, the drift of the continents, and the distribution of heat by the ocean and atmosphere. Relatively restrained in tone, and consequently more persuasive by its sobriety, Linden's presentation of scientists' theories on historical climate change will provoke readers concerned about the implications of global warming for modern civilization. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684863529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684863528
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,168,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. M. Williams on February 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is outside of my normal reading and any scientific knowledge basis that i might claim. To me, unfamiliar with the literature, it forms an interesting and breezy introduction to the way that mankind may have changed the climate in the past, the way we can study it now, all with the objective of interacting with political and social systems to lessen the impact of climate on our future. The author is an excellent writer, educated in the field, with an obvious gusto and delight that he manages to transmit to the reader, making the book a smooth and engrossing read.

The topic is important, there are substantial issues to understand. This book offers its reader a glimpse into both the issues, the problems and potential solutions. It is not a how-to book in the sense of outlining prescriptions but a book helping us to think better about the topics, an effort i find most stimulating. Its a quick read, it will provoke discussion from the partisans of viewpoints at odds with the author, i can see the reviews panning it now online, but you ought to read it for yourself.

One idea sticks particularly with me. The idea of flickering, of quick oscillations in the weather brought on by instabilities in the system. His image is a switch versus the usual metaphor of a dial, radical movement, rather than slow movement. For this addition to my mental tool i am grateful.

The book is uniform and even in writing, to get an idea of how you will interact with the author and the material just pickup the book at the bookstore and read a few pages at random. There isn't any particular chapter or section i recommend for a quick familiarization. If you have any interest in the topics of: global warming, thermohaline currents in the oceans, the effect of mankind on the climate, this appears to be a good introduction.

thanks for reading the short review.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book immediately after Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, and it does not compare all that well. Linden takes an historical look at the effect weather has had on past civilizations and on our own time, much of the time writing in a tone which is meant to be informal but often made me feel he was talking down to me, thus detracting from the importance of the subject. (In contrast, Flannery's book is often more technical and certainly more demanding of the reader.) It also bothered me that Linden was constantly referring to and quoting sections from other works, so that the book seemed to be more a summarization than anything else.

I did enjoy Linden's summaries of the impact climate had on the Greenland settlers and the Mayans, the effect of the Little Ice Age on Europe, and the descriptions of the varied impacts of El Ninos on different parts of the world were clear and illuminating. Readers who want a more detailed analysis of these and similar events can find them in Jared Diamond's Collapse and Brian Fagan's Floods Famines and Emperors, The Little Ice Age, and The Long Summer.

The best part of Linden's book comes at the end, when he examines the evidence that sudden changes in climate have occurred in the past and will most likely happen again in the near future, with some ominous predictions of the likely result. These are presented clearly, with additional evidence in the form of a lengthy chronology indicating that strange weather events have certainly been occurring increasingly often in recent years.

I'd recommend this book as a good first step in understanding how weather and climate have affected past and present human history, and then those readers who want deeper coverage can move on to some of the other books I mentioned above.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eugene Linden's "The Winds of Change" is much like the works of Brian Fagan, who for some time seems to have cornered the weather-as-determiner-of-human-fate business. Like Fagan's books, "The Winds of Change" gives a well documented account of past cultures that have collided with climate change at the worst possible moments. The Maya, probably the classic case and the one most often cited, is included as are the Norse colonies on Greenland.

While Fagan's book on the Little Ice Age included a very thorough discussion of the North Atlantic Oscillation, el Nino and la Nina, and the thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic, Linden's work has the benefit of the author's having visited on site with a number of climatologists studying ocean circulation and what ice and sediment cores have to say about past climate. Linden's book is a discussion of modern climatology as well as a presentation of historic disasters. It would definitely be a good book for a high school library since it reveals a good deal about what the work of a climatologist or oceanographer is like. It also reveals indirectly what it takes to be a good practicing journalist.

What this book does that Fagan's doesn't--at least not directly--is point out the issues facing our own culture. Most sobering is that while the world's cultures have managed to spread the negative impact of disaster among larger numbers of people, indeed has increased it to global proportions rather than to city, state or nation as it has been until even just recently, that same global interdependance increases the world's vulnerability to massive global size disasters. Note that just as the US volunteers during disasters abroad, so too did foreign countries offer aide to the US during hurricaine Katrina.
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