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A Short History of Progress
     

A Short History of Progress

by Ronald Wright
 

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Each time history repeats itself, the cost goes up. The twentieth century—a time of unprecedented progress—has produced a tremendous strain on the very elements that comprise life itself: This raises the key question of the twenty-first century: How much longer can this go on? With wit and erudition, Ronald Wright lays out a-convincing case that

Overview


Each time history repeats itself, the cost goes up. The twentieth century—a time of unprecedented progress—has produced a tremendous strain on the very elements that comprise life itself: This raises the key question of the twenty-first century: How much longer can this go on? With wit and erudition, Ronald Wright lays out a-convincing case that history has always provided an answer, whether we care to notice or not. From Neanderthal man to the Sumerians to the Roman Empire, A Short History of Progress dissects the cyclical nature of humanity's development and demise, the 10,000-year old experiment that we've unleashed but have yet to control. It is Wright's contention that only by understanding and ultimately breaking from the patterns of progress and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age can we avoid the onset of a new Dark Age. Wright illustrates how various cultures throughout history have literally manufactured their own end by producing an overabundance of innovation and stripping bare the very elements that allowed them to initially advance. Wright's book is brilliant; a fascinating rumination on the hubris at the heart of human development and the pitfalls we still may have time to avoid.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A provocative assembling of evidence from history, archaeology and anthropology that what we call civilization may carry the seeds of its own destruction. Already a bestseller in his native Canada, essayist Wright is now making his biggest mark since his debut novel (A Scientific Romance, 1997) attracted wide attention. The "progress" in the present title is purely ironic: These case studies-of ancient Sumer, the Maya in Central America, Rome, Greece and others-aim to show man as a parasitic species that constantly violates its own first rule of survival: "Don't kill off your host." In setting the scene, the author, perhaps most controversially, asserts that Stone Age hunters regularly drove their prey into extinction. As he tracks major transitions in the two linked "experiments" of agriculture and civilization that coincided with the opening of a favorable climate window in Neolithic times, Wright is logical and penetrating: The former wheat fields of Mesopotamia's fertile crescent are now salt pans and flood plains in Iraq, and some 200,000 Roman farmers were on federal subsistence by the time the Gothic horde reached Rome in the fourth century. On Easter Island, somebody cut down the last tree standing to make rollers in order to situate a freshly carved monolith. And if Earth's climate is better today than it's ever been, Wright postulates, what happens if it reverts (as it has before, taking only decades) to its norm of extreme shifts? "As we domesticated the plants, they domesticated us. Without us, they die; without them, so do we." The author declares outright that farmland the size of Scotland, much of it in Asia, is lost every year. Terrorist suicide bombers are nothing new, heasserts, citing Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, written a century ago, and they're a small threat compared to hunger, disease or climate change. Attacking terrorism's causes rather than its symptoms, he believes, might also save civilization from itself. Illuminating and disturbing, and expansively documented.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786715473
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
03/28/2005
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
211
Sales rank:
169,212
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

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