Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

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Revolutions, droughts, famines, invasions, wars, regicides – the calamities of the mid-seventeenth century were not only unprecedented, they were agonisingly widespread.  A global crisis extended from England to Japan, and from the Russian Empire to sub-Saharan Africa. North and South America, too, suffered turbulence. The distinguished historian Geoffrey Parker examines first-hand accounts of men and women throughout the world describing what they saw and suffered during a sequence of political, economic and social crises that stretched from 1618 to the 1680s. Parker also deploys scientific evidence concerning climate conditions of the period, and his use of ‘natural’ as well as ‘human’ archives transforms our understanding of the World Crisis. Changes in the prevailing weather patterns during the 1640s and 1650s – longer and harsher winters, and cooler and wetter summers – disrupted growing seasons, causing dearth, malnutrition, and disease, along with more deaths and fewer births. Some contemporaries estimated that one-third of the world died, and much of the surviving historical evidence supports their pessimism.

Parker’s demonstration of the link between climate change and worldwide catastrophe 350 years ago stands as an extraordinary historical achievement.  And the contemporary implications of his study are equally important: are we at all prepared today for the catastrophes that climate change could bring tomorrow?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Historian and professor Parker (The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare) presents a history of the 17th century that, given its bulk, must surely be the last word on the subject. Focusing on climate-driven unrest around the world, Parker illustrates how events such as drought can drive disease, war, and social change. He cites hundreds of sources dating from that period to the present, including letters, journals, petitions, and published books and articles, though he provides little insight into the accuracy of various sources on specifics like weather data from the 1600s. With a mere 2-degree Celsius change causing significant changes in rice harvests, it is easy to see how the lessons of the past may be relevant today, though Parker reserves commentary on the modern climate for the epilogue. He traces connections between climate and population and war, factors further influencing attitudes toward education and consumption. Few stones are left unturned, from how successful years created agricultural specialists in Germany; to how weather events impacted the Ottoman tragedy; to the roles women played during times of unrest in Europe, India, and China. Parker provides a perceptive but overwhelmingly thorough review of this historical period. (Apr.)
The British Academy - Medal
Winner of a 2014 British Academy Medal.
Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Parker tells [the story] with verve. . . . [his] novel interpretation, emphasizing climate instead of individual agency, helps to explain socio-economic change and revolution in ways that future historians will inevitably have to take into account."—Wall Street Journal
Literary Review - Timothy Brook
Global Crisis is the production of a scholar. . .who has reflected on what he knows long enough to take on the double task of synthesis and breakthrough. . .Parker regales the reader with some wild and grim tales, interleaved with thoughtful reflections from those who lived through the crises. A more genial geode to disaster one couldn’t hope to find. We shall need more of these in the future.”—Timothy Brook, Literary Review
Financial Times - Lisa Jardine
“In his monumental new book . . . Parker’s approach is systematic and painstaking . . . giv[ing] us a rich and emotionally intense sense of how it felt to live through chaotic times.”—Lisa Jardine, Financial Times
BBC History Magazine - Penny Roberts
“[T]his monumental work by the distinguished historian Geoffrey Parker . . . is a formidable piece of scholarship that goes beyond it’s evident grand scale and ambition as a work of synthesis . . . This book is scholarly and readable, bursting with fully documented examples and authoritative coverage of a vast swathe of 17th-century history, written on a broad canvas but accessible and compelling. It represents a worthy distillation of several decades of Parker’s scholarship, and should provide food for thought for academic historians and interested readers alike.” —Penny Roberts, BBC History Magazine
Sunday Times - Dominic Sandbrook
“In this vast, superbly researched and utterly engrossing book, Parker shows how climate change pushed the world towards chaos . . . Parker’s book is not merely powerful and convincing, it is a monument to scholarly dedication.”—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times
The Spectator - Christopher Booker
“This is indeed a superb and harrowing book, well worth reading for the skill with which Parker summarises the history of pretty well the whole world . . . a fascinating contribution to history.” —Christopher Booker, The Spectator
American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence - PROSE Awards
Received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the European & World History category.
Society for Military History - Distinguished Bok Award
Winner of the Society for Military History 2014 Distinguished Book Award for the best book-length publication in English on non-United States military history.
Harper's - Jane Smiley
"One of the books I found most informative and most perversely enjoyable this year is Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. It deserves, and rewards, careful reading."—Jane Smiley, Harper's
The Times - Dan Jones
"The author sets out to examine a century in which weather patterns radically altered and political, social and economic crises seemed to engulf every part of the world. What relationship does a changing climate bear to global stability? There could scarcely be a more timely question to ask. Parker deploys a dazzling breadth of scholarship in answering it."—Dan Jones, The Times
"A must read that shows how climate change 350 years ago can serve as a harbinger of the possible human consequences of today's rapidly changing climate. Essential. All levels/libraries."—Choice
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Winner of one of the 2012 Heineken Prizes

— Heineken Prize Laureate

Times Literary Supplement - Theodore K. Rabb
Global Crisis is a magnum opus that will remain a touchstone in three areas for at least a generation: the history of the entire globe, the role of climate in history, and the identification of a major historical crisis in the seventeenth century . . . Wide-ranging, monumental works of history are rare; this is one of them.”—Theodore K. Rabb, Times Literary Supplement
The Australian - Patricia Anderson
“The clarity with which Parker, a British historian, has assembled a wealth of material makes this long book difficult to put down. The entire world of the 1660s seems only a heartbeat away.” —Patricia Anderson, The Australian

"A must read that shows how climate change 350 years ago can serve as a harbinger of the possible human consequences of today's rapidly changing climate. Essential. All levels/libraries."—Choice
The Sunday Times
“[A] staggeringly researched, rivetingly written and intellectually dazzling book. . . I expect it to be read and debated for decades to come.”—The Sunday Times
Financial Times
“A work of formidable erudition and scope from a renowned British authority on early modern history.”—The Financial Times
The Guardian - Catronia Graham
“My big book of the year has been Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis on the disastrous war-torn 17th century. It fills in gaps, gives different perspectives – not least on Scotland during the Civil War – and opens new areas of history to explore.”—Catronia Graham, The Guardian
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Winner of one of the 2012 Heineken Prizes

— Heineken Prize Laureate

Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Winner of one of the Heineken Prizes 2012 Laureates. Professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Prof. Parker is receiving the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for History for his outstanding scholarship on the social, political and military history of Europe between 1500 and 1650, in particular Spain, Philip II, and the Dutch Revolt; for his contribution to military history in general; and for his research on the role of climate in world history

— Heineken Prize Laureate

Library Journal
Commonly referred to as an age of "general crisis," the 17th century, within what is known as the Little Ice Age, was a period of global food shortages, ravaging diseases, brutal wars, and popular unrest in which life could aptly be characterized by Thomas Hobbes's description of it being "nasty, brutish, and short." But for Parker (history, Ohio State Univ.; The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare), previous accounts of the age have too often ignored the central role played by climate change. While presenting a strong case for climatic upheaval, Parker warns against becoming "climatic determinists" and instead points out that while harsh climates alone are capable of setting the stage for crisis, it takes inept, misplaced government policy to produce catastrophe. After covering the effects of the Little Ice Age across Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Peru, China, and Japan, Parker leaves us with the warning that it is not a question of whether climate change occurs but when and that understanding and planning inside this paradigm will make all the difference. VERDICT Parker's magisterial global history is bold in scope and superb in execution, and while the size is daunting, the book is a pleasure throughout. Highly recommended for readers of Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age as well as for scholars of the era.—Brian Odom, Birmingham, AL
Sunday Herald - Hugh MacDonald

“Its subject is huge, sprawling, all-encompassing and there is an almost reckless ambition about its purpose. It is a big book. It is also a brilliant one, but it requires attention, time and thought . . . This history is told with a sustained gusto by Parker but . . . it is the contemporary significance of the book that is truly breathtaking.” —Hugh MacDonald, Sunday Herald
America - Robert E. Scully

"....a brilliant and mulifaceted approach to the global 17th century."Robert E. Scully, S.J., America Magazine
Brian Fagan

'Geoffrey Parker has deployed the human archive for climate change during the seventeenth century in a masterly synthesis of history and paleoclimatology that helps us redefine the impact of the Little Ice Age on humanity. The Global Crisis is a beautifully written, masterly work of multidisciplinary history, which draws on an amazing range of sources. Parker’s work opens up exciting new avenues for historical inquiry and has direct relevance to today’s debates over climate change and humanity.' - Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of The Little Ice Age
Sanjay Subrahmanyam

'Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis is an extraordinarily ambitious attempt to write world history "from the bottom up". Based on long decades of work, and eschewing the facile solution of just drawing on secondary literature, Parker once more shows his grasp of varied archives and texts for which he is celebrated. He draws them together around a complex yet powerful thesis linking climate, military power and political change in the seventeenth century. Learned and argumentative, yet written with subtlety, wit and panache, his book will set the bar for the next generation of students and scholars who want to write history on this scale.' - Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California at Los Angeles
Jack A. Goldstone

'Parker has given us the most profound and global account of the pivotal seventeenth century, from its revolutions and rebellions to scientific and constitutional breakthroughs.  As we enter a new era of global climate change, thi?s gripping book provides a wondrous portrait of a similar age and a stern warning.' - Jack A. Goldstone, author of Why Europe? The Rise of the West in World History 1500-1850
Julia Adeney Thomas

‘A world-altering force [that] has been emerging, one larger, more devastating, and more definitive than the any other "turn" in recent historiography: “I speak of climate change – or climate collapse – and all of its related global transformations”.’ – Julia Adeney Thomas, American Historical Review
Geographical - Jonathan Wright
"Geoffrey Parker has secured an enviable reputation as one of the leading historians of early modern Europe. He has decided to branch out and the results are spectacular. The ambition of his new book is astonishing and the range of research is almost impossible to believe."—Jonathan Wright, Geographical
Foreign Affairs - Deborah R. Coen

"Parker's book captures this century of upheaval in a political, economic, and cultural history of dozens of early modern states. Parker combed archives in six European countries, as well as India."Debroah R. Coen, Foreign Affairs
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences - Heineken Prize Laureate

Winner of one of the 2012 Heineken Prizes
Sunday Times

Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2013
Choice - Outstanding Academic Title

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the History, Geography, & Area Studies Category.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300153231
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2013
  • Pages: 904
  • Sales rank: 163,308
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including seminal works on the Spanish Armada, Western military innovations of 1500–1800, and worldwide military history. He has been awarded the prestigious Heineken Prize for History, 2012. He lives in Ohio.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Lots of very detailed material. Ideal as a source of specific information for the period.

    This is a very complete discussion of events in the seventeenth century. There is an enormous amount of detail about a short time period. It should have great appeal to the professional historian. As a person who enjoys reading history, I would have enjoyed the book more, it a longer time period was covered.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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