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Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World
     

Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World

4.3 10
by David Keys
 

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It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought

Overview

It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world—essentially the modern world as we know it today—began to emerge.

In this fascinating, groundbreaking, totally accessible book, archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically reconstructs the global chain of revolutions that began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, then offers a definitive explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago.

The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. As Keys demonstrates with compelling originality and authoritative research, these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave.

Keys's narrative circles the globe as he identifies the eerie fallout from the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a superb command of ancient literatures and historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the "wasteland" that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known "Jewish empire" in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland.

In the book's final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future. Wide-ranging in its scholarship, written with flair and passion, filled with original insights, Catastrophe is a superb synthesis of history, science, and cultural interpretation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Keys's startling thesis, a global climatic catastrophe in A.D. 535-536--a massive volcanic eruption sundering Java from Sumatra--was the decisive factor that transformed the ancient world into the medieval, or as Keys prefers to call it, the "proto-modern" era. Ancient chroniclers record a disaster in that year that blotted out the sun for months, causing famine, droughts, floods, storms and bubonic plague. Keys, archeology correspondent for the London Independent, uses tree-ring samples, analysis of lake deposits and ice cores, as well as contemporaneous documents to bolster his highly speculative thesis. In his scenario, the ensuing disasters precipitated the disintegration of the Roman Empire, beset by Slav, Mongol and Persian invaders propelled from their disrupted homelands. The sixth-century collapse of Arabian civilization under pressure from floods and crop failure created an apocalyptic atmosphere that set the stage for Islam's emergence. In Mexico, Keys claims, the cataclysm triggered the collapse of a Mesoamerican empire; in Anatolia, it helped the Turks establish what eventually became the Ottoman Empire; while in China, the ensuing half-century of political and social chaos led to a reunified nation. Huge claims call for big proof, yet Keys reassembles history to fit his thesis, relentlessly overworking its explanatory power in a manner reminiscent of Velikovsky's theory that a comet collided with the earth in 1500 B.C. Readers anxious about future cataclysms will take note of Keys's roundup of trouble spots that could conceivably wreak planetary havoc. Maps. BOMC and QPBC selections. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345444363
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/02/2000
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
699,672
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

David Keys - archaeology correspondent of the London daily paper, The Independent, and leading TV archaeological consultant - has visited over one thousand archaeological sites in sixty countries.

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Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Robin McDonald More than 1 year ago
I read this when it came out in hardback (after seeing a special about it on TV- History Channel I think), in 2000. If you are a lover of history, this book is like getting the last piece of puzzle....all the random piece of information you've been storing in your brain suddenly fall into place and it all makes sense! I wouldn't normally pay $12.99 for an e-copy of a book, but this book is worth every penny! This book should be required reading for all high school students.....David Keys is an incredible story teller....a rarity for non-fiction, history authors. Read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For the responder- Sceptical - Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot ¿ who writes a comment on a book they have not even read? You have no idea of what you are talking about. When did it become acceptable to just babble for babble sake? It only serves to inform others of how limited people can be, if that was your point it was well taken.

About the book (which is why this section is for). I read the book because I saw the interview that David Keys had with Charlie Rose and I agree with one of the other responders it was a page turner. I think because I had already started reading on the subject I perhaps had a pretty good handle of what he was writing about. Although critics believe he over simplified his subject, but if put into context with other writings, David Keys has presented a rather compelling thesis on the origins of the Medieval world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book at least attempts greatness! How does one man know so much about history, archeaology, geography, biology, disease, bacteria, earthquakes, dams and floods, nomadic migration of the Turks and Avars, the digestive processes of horse vs. cow-based cultures, medieval Jewish kingdoms 1000 miles north of Jerusalem, the source of the English myth of 'The Wasteland', ice cores and tree rings? Keys combines them all from all over the globe to present a universal theory that a huge Sumatra/Java volcano in 535 B.C. dimmed the sun globally for 18 months resulting in widespread drought, then plague, then nomadic displacement resulting in new pressures on old and weakened cultures--all this resulting--within in a century-- with the downfall of 70% of Roman territory, the rise of Islam, the failure of old religions and rise and spreading of Buddhism into Korea and Japan, fall of several Latin American cultures, conquest of the Celtic (plague-ridden) English by the Angles/Saxons (non plague-ridden), shift of power from Southern France to Paris, and on and on and on--the making of the nations states which made our modern world ('proto-modern' is how Keys puts it). Whether an assembly of bona-fide biologists, earthquake experts, archeologists, doctors, linguists, religionists and historians (for Keys has done the work of an assembly) would agree him on each and every point, I can't say. My guess is he has overstated his case somewhat (it certainly 'feels' too big to really answer everything--it sort of feels like the PBS series 'Connections'--'a drought led to a razor blade which became a computer chip'), but the attempt is impressive, the history is fascinating, the book is impossible to put down. I can't imagine a greater undertaking nor a more interesting way to be exposed even to the petty details of history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating look at a possible event in history. In putting forth his theory, the author pulls together a lot of world history, reminding those of us who grew up in a Eurocentric World that there is a lot more to it. Keys never puts his ideas forth as truth, but it's hard to discount his logic. It's a lot of fun to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fascinating theory... ...David Keys connects the dots on seemingly unrelated events and sheds light on what was clearly one of mankinds darkest hours...the fall of the Roman Empire, the bubonic plague and the invasion of barbarians from the north. It gave me a new found respect for the Roman Empire and the multiple catastrophes that shook and weakened it. It makes you wonder what would happen if the same thing happened in the US today.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I never read this book I can tell that the decline of the Roman Empire began long before this time. The last imperator vanished in 474 A.D. And this decline for sure has nothing to do with a climatic disaster in 535 - which might have happened or not.