The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 23, 2018
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“An elegantly written, devoted testimonial to the art of the possible.” —Jonathan Hahn, Sierra
“Mann’s storytelling skills are unmatched. . . . The great virtue of Mann’s book—and much of his journalism over many years—is that it raises very large questions . . . that are usually either ignored or answered in slogans. He provides detail enough, and simplicity enough, that anyone who is struggling with these puzzles will be enlightened and informed. And entertained, which, given the subject matter, is no small feat.” —Bill McKibben, The New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating . . . An inquisitive and gifted science writer.” —Tyler Priest, Science
“The most persuasive writers on the environment punctuate their big-picture theses with telling details that bring the relevant issues to life. Like Elizabeth Kolbert and Tim Flannery, Charles C. Mann is one of the masters of this art . . . a stimulating, thoughtful, balanced overview of matters vital to us all.” —Dan Cryer, The Boston Globe
“Mann is a compelling and forensic analyst of big tipping points in human affairs.” —Fred Pearce, The Washington Post
"Charles C. Mann specializes in deep, comprehensive looks at the past that better elucidate the present." —Mary Ellen Hannibal, San Francisco Chronicle
“Best-selling author and journalist Mann tackles the thorny problem of humankind’s future through the lens of two 20th-century visionaries. . . . A sweeping, provocative work of journalism, history, science and philosophy.” —Library Journal starred review
“Without taking sides, Mann delivers a fine examination of two possible paths to a livable future.” —Publisher’s Weekly starred review
“An insightful, highly significant account that makes no predictions but lays out the critical environmental problems already upon us.”—Kirkus starred review
"The contrast is stark—technological wizardry or romantic prophecy as a lens to view the future path for the planet and humanity. Charles Mann provides a deeply corrugated, richly nuanced, and highly entertaining narrative to make sense of the most consequential decisions facing civilization. Read, think, and enjoy." —Ruth deFries, author of The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis
“Brilliantly conceived and executed, Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet is the book I have long awaited—thoughtful, balanced and unbiased—to understand the challenges that humanity will face as the twenty-first century progresses. Mann’s historical perspective provides the critically important context for us to understand how we got here and how we might solve the problems presented by a finite world of ten billion humans.” –Gary Taubes, author of The Case Against Sugar
“The Wizard and the Prophet is a fascinating portrait of two men who probably shaped your thinking about the future, whether you realize it or not. Charles Mann proves, once again, a masterful storyteller." – Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“A rich, elegant, ferociously readable study of our global quandary. Among the many excellent things Charles C. Mann does in The Wizard and the Prophet is give us a fresh, and wholly unexpected, way of understanding today’s political divide.” —Russell Shorto, author of Revolution Song
“A fascinating story of two forgotten men whose ideas changed our understanding of humanity’s place in nature. The Wizard and the Prophet is an intellectual history of the clash between techno-optimists and environmentalists, but it’s also the very personal story of two thinkers, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. Mann offers a sympathetic, nuanced way to understand one of the fundamental debates of our time: How will 10 billion humans live sustainably on Earth, when our demands for energy and food are growing? This book showcases an important new kind of futurism, which looks to the past to understand how we'll survive. Never preachy nor dogmatic, Mann asks his readers to do the most difficult thing possible: choose a path to a better world, by consulting your own conscience.” —Annalee Newitz, editor, Ars Technica
About the Author
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In this book, Mann tells the story of the lives and works of two largely forgotten but extremely influential mid-twentieth century scientists. In 1948, William Vogt (the 'Phophet') wrote 'Road to Survival'. A hugely influential book, it foresaw the planet's and man's doom if we continued to populate (over-populate) the earth and ravage its resources unchecked. He espoused among other things population control and severe conservation. Norman Borlaug (the 'Wizard') won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 as the father of the "Green Revolution". Borlaug saw hunger and he tried to overcome it through plant breeding and science. Essentially, the two men perceived the same problem (the land's human carrying capacity was being exceeded) and attempted to solve it in opposite directions.
Charles Mann uses the story of these two passionate, brilliant, and hard-working men to address our dilemma as a species and inhabiters of earth. We will approach 10 billion strong in this century. Are we headed for catastrophe or are we capable of solving approaching major problems (hunger, climate change, resource depletion, etc.)? This is a wonderfully written, even-handed, thoughtful, calm examination of our most important questions.
Also presented, though not central to the text, is an important evolution researcher (Lynn Margulis), who was of the opinion that the human species is bound by evolution and sure to disappear, never mind what it does.
Still, the following questions arise:
One. Vogt is not a prophet, most of whom promised salvation after deserved suffering. Rather he is a Cassandra, who was cursed to know the future but not to be believed.
Two. The Wizard was careful. He did not engage in dangerous science, though he might have failed in his efforts to overcome the Malthusian loop. It is not clear at all whether he would support risky geoengineering.
Three. The book present very well two contrasting ideologies. Thus, it sharpens the question who shall decide on which one to base action. But it does not pose this critical question as needed.
These and other comments do not impair the quality of the book, which should be pondered by all who are concerned, or should be concerned, about the future of humanity, starting with political leaders.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Top international reviews
The two paths are small-scale ecology (the kind of thing Ivan Illich used to write so well about) or technology-fuelled eco-solutions. This pairing is familiar from most of our current debates - and the book blurb sets out the stall better than I can. But what it skips over is how this book throws all sorts of fascinating historical perspectives on it, not reducing history to that simple opposition, but enriching it and complicating the stakes of the debate. The story of the defeat of wheat rust (and the fact that it was such a problem in the first place) was all new to me. The detail of Israeli water management was also an eye-opener (for me). Basically, I could list most of the contents as an eye-opener. This might just prove how ignorant I am, but I'm not sure there are too many popular writers covering these big themes.
The author has an incredible story telling ability. The book is dense, but reads like a novel.
The level of investigation on the parts involved is incredible.
And to top it all, a very contemporary discussion with arguments that provide both sides with insights and considerations.
On a more basic level, my understanding of a whole number of ecological and environmental issues and episodes is much richer and deeper because of the insights and information in this book. Ok, sure, at times late in the book I think Mann is way overzealous in applying his eponymous dichotomy to specific people and ideas. But heck you can't have everything. What a great book... Read it!
Las visiones sobre el tema de Norman Borlaug y William Vogt marcan dos caminos distintos......
If not as an instruction book, useful read as a history of science.