While doing research for a school project, my son checked this book out of the library. When he was done, and before it needed to be returned, I decided to read it. It was time well spent.
Contents: Preface Acknowledgments Author's Note Part One: Warmth and Its Aftermath Part Two: Cooling Begins Part Three: The End of the "Full World" Part Four: The Modern Warm Period Notes Index
Brian Fagen's, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300 to 1850, takes the reader to a specific period in time, during a significant climatic event. It is, arguably, the most important environmental in the last thousand years and one that may predict future events (even the current "climatic change"). Fagan, an archeologist, fleshes out the story using personal diaries, contemporary sources, and manual temperature and climate records. Adding current data, provided by a wide variety of sources, including analysis of ice cores and leading historians, he is able to present a very readable and interesting book on the effects of a major climate change on the population of the Earth (this not only includes humans, but also fish and animals).
I think when you mention "global warming" or "climate change" in this day, most people think of rising temperatures. That is only a part of how the environment changes. In the period described in the book, you had areas that experienced extreme cold, scorching summers, and increased volcanic activities. All of these factor contributed to how humans interacted with each other and nature. One interesting fact was that the cod fisheries, very important to the time period, couldn't continue to live in the eastern Atlantic and moved to the western Atlantic. The effect was catastrophic to the known world. But what it brought was determined fisherman to the New World, following the cod, including the Pilgrims. Wild swings in temperature also meant that subsistence farmers weren't prepared for a season, or more, of bad crops. Some societies relied on one basic foodstuff. And when that crop crashed, you had the Irish Potato famine, the worst famine Ireland had ever seen. Another offshoot of the Little Ice Age was the development and use of technology and farming methods. While the English were able to adapt to new farming methods and techniques, the French didn't adapt at all. Fagan argues that this led to social breakdown and revolution in that country. All of this leads to Fagan's research to suggest that the current issues facing humanity started in 1850, when the American colonialists started cutting down trees and burning them, throwing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He finishes by saying the global warming only increases the wild swings in climate, making world weather extremely unpredictable to predict.
No matter your thoughts on climate change, or global warming, this was a fascinating look at not only the weather during a specific timeframe, but also how the affected societies functioned. Fagan, drawing on contemporary writings and his access to historians, is able to weave an incredible narrative of the time. He has a nice ability to bring history alive and to present scientific findings in a very understandable manner. While the title may seem dry or uninteresting, the writing is not. It may not be part your normal reading, but the Notes are a wonderful look into Fagan's sources, some of them quite amazing.
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