William Vogt and (particularly) Norman Borlaug are brought to splendid, quirky life…[with] one charming (and telling) anecdote after another…As he showed in his earlier books
1491 and 1493 Mann's storytelling skills are unmatchedthe sprightly tempo with which this book unfolds, each question answered as it comes to mind, makes for pure pleasure reading…The great virtue of Mann's book…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.
The New York Times Book Review - Bill McKibben
Journalist Mann (1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created) clearly illustrates two opposing outlooks for dealing with major problems facing humankind, using two 20th-century scientists as exemplars. Mann straightforwardly states that this book does not provide “a blueprint for tomorrow.” Rather, it’s an account of difficulties facing humans and ways to approach them. William Vogt (1902–1968), who serves as Mann’s “prophet,” regarded human overconsumption as a potential source of humanity’s downfall and saw restraint as the only possible recourse. Mann’s “wizard” is Norman Borlaug (1914–2009), a leading figure in the “green revolution” of agricultural technology. For followers of Borlaug, science and technology hold the solutions to the problems that beset humankind. Mann juxtaposes these two lives and ideologies while briefly introducing a third viewpoint—that of biologist Lynn Margulis, who posited that humankind is doomed to extinction like any other “successful species.” In tracing the lives of Vogt and Borlaug, Mann describes how proponents of the two contrasting viewpoints that they epitomize suggest that humans should confront the challenges of providing food, clean water, and energy to an ever-growing population on a planet undergoing climate change. Neither ideology, he points out, is assured to bring humankind success. Without taking sides, Mann delivers a fine examination of two possible paths to a livable future. (Jan.)
A dual biography of two significant figures who "had little regard" for each other's work but "were largely responsible for the creation of the basic intellectual blueprints that institutions around the world use today for understanding our environmental dilemmas."A thick book featuring two scientists unknown to most readers is a tough sell, but bestselling journalist and historian Mann (1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, 2011, etc.), a correspondent for the Atlantic, Science, and Wired, turns in his usual masterful performance. Nobel Prize-winning agronomist Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) developed high-yield wheat varieties and championed agricultural techniques that led to the "Green Revolution," vastly increasing world food production. Ornithologist William Vogt (1902-1968) studied the relationship between resources and population and wrote the 1948 bestseller Road to Survival, a founding document of modern environmentalism in which the author maintains that current trends will lead to overpopulation and mass hunger. Borlaug and Vogt represent two sides of a centurylong dispute between what Mann calls "wizards," who believe that science will allow humans to continue prospering, and "prophets," who predict disaster unless we accept that our planet's resources are limited. Beginning with admiring biographies, the author moves on to the environmental challenges the two men symbolize. Agriculture will require a second green revolution by 2050 to feed an estimated 10 billion inhabitants. Only 1 percent of Earth's water is fresh and accessible; three-quarters goes to agriculture, and shortages are already alarming. More than 1.2 billion people still lack electricity; whether to produce more or use less energy bitterly divides both sides. Neither denies that human activities are wreaking havoc with Earth's climate. Mann's most spectacular accomplishment is to take no sides. Readers will thrill to the wizards' astounding advances and believe the prophets' gloomy forecasts, and they will also discover that technological miracles produce nasty side effects and that self-sacrifice, as prophets urge, has proven contrary to human nature.An insightful, highly significant account that makes no predictions but lays out the critical environmental problems already upon us.
Scrupulous, stimulating, and elegant . . . A beautifully crafted book. Anyone wanting a readable, relentlessly intelligent narrative showing where our environmental ideas and anxieties in the present-day Anglophone world come from will find it here in abundance.” —Robert J. Mayhew,
Times Literary Supplement “Brilliant . . . The author’s science journalism shines.” —William Easterly, The Wall Street Journal “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
Best-selling author and journalist Mann (1491; 1493) tackles the thorny problem of humankind's future through the lens of two 20th-century visionaries: apocalyptic environmentalist William Vogt and Green Revolution founder Norman Borlaug. Vogt, a self-trained ornithologist and author of The Road to Survival, serves as the book's Prophet, decrying the damages of human consumption and advocating passionately for measures to combat overpopulation. Borlaug, by contrast, is the Wizard; a Nobel Prize-winning plant pathologist with decades worth of work breeding new forms of high-yielding disease-resistant wheat, highlighting human innovation as a primary solution to problems of hunger and population growth. From the outset, Mann sets up Vogt and Borlaug as representatives of two related yet opposing philosophies that force readers to question how today's leaders should best invest their time to ensure a better tomorrow. How would disciples of Vogt and Borlaug approach problems of global demand for food, water, and energy? What could each contribute to threats of climate change? By showing Vogt and Borlaug's successes and mistakes, Mann counsels us to hope even as we cannot agree on how best to proceed. VERDICT A sweeping, provocative work of journalism, history, science and philosophy. Highly recommended for fans and students of environmental studies, social sciences, and contemporary nonfiction.—Robin Chin Roemer, Univ. of Washington Lib., Seattle