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The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Groundbreaking Scientists and Their Conflicting Visions of the Future of Our Planet

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From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493--an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow's world. In forty years, Earth's po From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493--an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow's world. In forty years, Earth's population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups--Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug's cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces--food, water, energy, climate change--grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author's insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.


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From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493--an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow's world. In forty years, Earth's po From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493--an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow's world. In forty years, Earth's population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups--Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug's cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces--food, water, energy, climate change--grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author's insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.

30 review for The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Groundbreaking Scientists and Their Conflicting Visions of the Future of Our Planet

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    Charles Mann has written some wonderful books. I read two of them, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and they are both excellent. And, this book follows in the same vein; while it is about a completely different subject (the twentieth century rise of environmentalism), it is equal in quality to his previous books. Humans grab between 25% and 40% of the entire world's output of land plants and animals. All other species rise Charles Mann has written some wonderful books. I read two of them, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and they are both excellent. And, this book follows in the same vein; while it is about a completely different subject (the twentieth century rise of environmentalism), it is equal in quality to his previous books. Humans grab between 25% and 40% of the entire world's output of land plants and animals. All other species rise and eventually die out. Are humans special? Is there any evidence that humans might be a magical exception? This is a major theme of the book; are humans headed for extinction, or can some strategy save our species? This is the story of two opposite visions of how to set right the problems of our environment. The stories are told of two scientists who were early advocates of these two opposing visions. William Vogt held the view that our problems are due to overuse of our environment. Our populations are too big, our land is over-used for farming and left poor in nutrients, and our water supplies are over-used. We pollute the environment, causing all sorts of problems like climate change, and depletion of our natural resources. Vogt's answer was to cut back on consumerism, over-farming, and over-population. Norman Borlaug saw the same problems, but offered a different solution; technology and human invention can overcome these problems. People need to work smarter, not grow less food for fewer people. It could be said that Borlaug was personally responsible for saving millions of people from starvation. Vogt was an amateur bird-watcher. In 1933 he observed an over-abundance of black ducks at Jones Beach. The reason was the suburbanization of Long Island, which displaced the ducks. Later, Vogt was hired by a Peruvian guano company to discover why cormorants were decreasing in numbers in the islands off Peru. After Pearl Harbor, Vogt was hired by the U.S. State Department to travel through South America, to report on the level of support for Germany and Japan. In 1943 he headed the Conservation Section of the Pan American Union. He visited cities in all of the countries in North, Central, and South America. Outside the cities, he discovered environmental nightmares. He found that over-consumption was stripping nature bare. Vogt wrote, "Unless humanknid controlled its appetites for procreation and consumption, there can be no peace." In the early 20th century, ecological issues were seen as a right-wing conspiracy. It was seen as an outcome of a belief in racial superiority. Vogt and others transformed conservation into a liberal cause. He wrote the book Road to Survival, which was a big success. The book stated that the problem is an inter-connected world-wide issue, not something merely local or national. The book became a blueprint for today's environmental movement. It helped inspire the writing of the books Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and The Population Bomb by Paul Erlich. The Rockefeller Foundation sent Norman Borlaug to Mexico in 1944 to breed disease-resistant wheat in the central highlands. He encountered destitute farmers who had been mistreated by authorities, and kept in the stone ages by superstitions planted by those in power. Here, Borlaug acquired a sense of mission. While Vogt saw the carrying capacity of the land as the central issue, Borlaug saw farmers as being central. To Borlaug, the problem was not the land, but the lack of tools and knowledge. Borlaug labored for years and years, cross breeding varieties of wheat using an unorthodox method known as shuttle breeding across different climates. His thought was that he did not want to breed a variety of wheat that could be grown in just a single Mexican climate; he wanted a variety that could be grown everywhere in the country. He made many attempts to develop wheat that could resist many types of rust, produce good grain with good milling quality. By 1962 Borlaug had bred an all-purpose wheat that could be grown anywhere in Mexico. It was short, fecund, disease-resistant, and grown in rich or poor soil. The only requirement was that it needed to be watered well and fertilized. His wheat tripled the per-acre yield in Mexico, and then in India and Pakistan. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The book goes on to describe the history of the movement for organic farming, the development of better rice, activism against genetic engineering, enormous water projects in Israel, the problem of carbon dioxide's role in the progression of climate change, pollution due to burning coal, and the green revolution. It is a remarkable book in terms of its depth, and comprehensive history of all of these different aspects of environmentalism, conservation, and the future needs for water, food, and energy. Charles Mann captures the controversies between prophets--who demand reduction in the use of resources--and wizards, who rely on technology to increase the supply of these resources. I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in these issues, and how we came to this point in history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    A pretty good, if overlong, book about technical progress (Wizards) vs. environmental activism (Prophets). More or less. Mann does a good job of remaining even-handed in this long-running debate, which became prominent (in the US) with John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot in the early 20th century. Mann picked William Vogt as his Prophet poster-boy. I’d never heard of Vogt, an ornithologist who studied the guano islands off Peru in the 1940s, and went on to activism. And I had trouble remembering who w A pretty good, if overlong, book about technical progress (Wizards) vs. environmental activism (Prophets). More or less. Mann does a good job of remaining even-handed in this long-running debate, which became prominent (in the US) with John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot in the early 20th century. Mann picked William Vogt as his Prophet poster-boy. I’d never heard of Vogt, an ornithologist who studied the guano islands off Peru in the 1940s, and went on to activism. And I had trouble remembering who were the Wizards. Or Prophets. I knew a fair bit about Norman Borlaug, the book's Wizard, who won a Nobel Peace Prize as the father of the Green Revolution. But I didn’t know the details of his career, and just how hard it was breeding a dwarf, high-yielding wheat variety that could resist wheat rust, an ubiquitous and destructive fungal disease. Without any formal training in plant breeding, which was just as well, since he was trying unorthodox methods. He got lucky, and the Mexicans (and then the world) got wheat that yielded twice or three times the best previous yields. See first comment for more details of the development and acceptance of the "miracle wheat." The new wheat varieties finally enabled India (and other countries) to feed themselves. Which was the point of the exercise, as they sure couldn’t before. It’s a bit hard to imagine that Prophets would criticize this achievement, but some do. There’s an evil chain of thought, from Malthus to eugenics to Nazis, that said, let those foreigners die, they breed like rabbits anyway. As Winston Churchill quipped, declining to send food aid to Bengal in 1942. 3,000,000 Bengalis, British subjects all, starved to death. Mann had a hard time making some of the doom 'n' gloom Prophets' ideas seem reasonable. Not that a lot of them aren’t, but it’s hard to take people like Jeremy Rifkin or Paul Erlich seriously. Or paving the world’s deserts (or Germany!) with solar farms. The middle part of the book is the weakest, and I skimmed a lot of familiar material on energy use, population growth, and global warming. Mann is careless at time with cites and facts: he repeatedly gives an estimate of a global population of around 10 billion by 2050, but never cites a source. In a brief fact check, there is a range of UN estimates from 8 to 10 billion by 2050 (or, less likely, higher), And the global population may start to decrease about then. Prosperous people have fewer kids. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project... More on projected population growth at second comment. His summary of climate-change skepticism (in an appendix) is fair minded. In my opinion, as a geologist who’s looked into the topic in some depth, the climate is warming, but pretty slowly, and this is unlikely to cause major problems. I could be wrong. And there’s a sweet, optimistic coda, à la “The Better Angels of our Nature,” that says, maybe we can somehow pull this off, give everybody a decent life without totally trashing our planet. I certainly hope so, and, though we may disagree on the details, I expect you do, too. The book is closer to 3.5 stars, but I've gotten impatient with writers who take 10 words when 2 will do. Thus the round-down. But likely worth your effort to skim (at least). The Norman Borlaug bio is excellent.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    I really didn't think I'd ever waste my time reading another new book by Charles Mann. After he came out with his article claiming that fossil fuel supplies are infinite, I lost all respect for him. I had actually liked 1491 and 1493, finding some ideas to be a bit questionable but for the most part being pretty good books. At first I couldn't even believe that the article could have been written by the same guy who wrote those. Looking around for more solid evidence of his insanity, I found an I really didn't think I'd ever waste my time reading another new book by Charles Mann. After he came out with his article claiming that fossil fuel supplies are infinite, I lost all respect for him. I had actually liked 1491 and 1493, finding some ideas to be a bit questionable but for the most part being pretty good books. At first I couldn't even believe that the article could have been written by the same guy who wrote those. Looking around for more solid evidence of his insanity, I found an interview on youtube with him and John Tierney that was just shockingly irresponsible. I mean, it's one thing to say that peak oil "doomers" are putting too much faith in the economy crashing on its own before making the planet uninhabitable (an opinion I actually agree with) but to use high oil estimates as justification for infinte growth is completely nuts! Not only do these guys mock anyone who thinks we should conserve resources, Mann also blatantly misrepresents Jared Diamond's ideas. This made me really question his sincerity. He just comes across as a con artist trying to eliminate competition from his niche. Since that interview I have actually seen a video of him and Diamond talking together pretty cordially though. Maybe the things he said that originally irritated me were just honest mistakes but I do find that kind of hard to believe. I only heard about this book because people were passing around Mann's newest Atlantic article about the challenges of feeding a world with 10 billion people. Sustainable agriculture is a subject I've been interested in for a while. I've also been interested in the debate between anti-tech groups and pro-tech groups about which path really is best for people and the planet, having even written my own book on the subject (it was never actually published so technically it's just a "blog" but it was written to be read like a book. If anyone's interested they can read that here for free http://aproposalforprimitivism.blogsp...). Since it focuses on some of my favorite subjects, this book was kind of hard for me to resist. I figured that even if I disagreed with his ideas I should at least see what he's saying since so many people follow his work. Even before getting to the book, his Atlantic article had some really bad mistakes. Most annoying to me, since I've spent so much time researching the ideas myself, was a line about chestnuts producing more calories per acre than wheat. I have absolutely no idea where he came up with that. It's pretty common for people to calculate the yield from nut trees in fresh weight and the calories per pound in dry weight (this actually threw off some of my own estimates in the first draft of my work before I realized the mistake) but even using those numbers, the highest reasonable estimate for chestnut yield per acre is 6,000 pounds per year (this is about 6 times higher than the number that should be used for calories per acre calculations by the way). When you multiply that by the calories per pound, that's still less than the average wheat yield, and wheat isn't even the highest yielding of annuals anyway. The only explanation I can think of is that he took the number of trees initially planted per acre and multiplied that by the average yield of a full grown tree instead of using the number of full grown trees that can fit in an acre, which can be less than 10% of the number of trees initially planted. I am an advocate for perennializing farmland so it's not the glorification of tree crops over annuals that annoys me, it's the impression this leaves people with about how many people can be fed with sustainable agriculture and how that shapes peoples' opinions on economic growth. This particular mistake isn't found in the book but I think it says a lot about the credibility of Mann's research. Getting into the actual book, there are a lot of dumbed down, overly simplified arguments and misrepresentations of different groups of people. It didn't piss me off as much as I'd expected though. He does a pretty good job of hiding his own opinions, presenting most ideas as the opinions of others, which helps him come across as a little less biased towards infinite growth and techno-utopianism. Make no mistake though, he does have his own opinions and is trying to leave readers with a certain impression. I'm extremely skeptical of the claim that he's undecided or still trying to figure out which side he's on. Early on he says that he used to lean more towards the "Vogtian" side but came to sympathize more with "Borlaugians" as he realized oil wasn't running out and pesticides weren't leading to epidemics of cancer (his words, not mine). The choice to focus on Vogt and Borlaug as the progenitors of two opposing views of thought is itself pretty strange. It feels more like a pointless gimmick to me, basically just some new way of presenting ideas that most of his readers already know anyway, like climate science, the evidence for evolution, how photosynthesis works and the history of Darwinism. He spends way too much time explaining these things in my opinion. Almost every topic of discussion just turns into an excuse to write a short biography on some scientist. I thought the point of the book was supposed to be comparing high tech visions of the future with lower tech alternatives, not rehashing what thousands of other environmental books have already said. It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that most people can trace their opinions back to one of these two schools of thought. I really don't think these particular scientists influenced us as much as he claims. His terms "Vogtian" and "Borlaugian", or prophet and wizard, don't even cover the full spectrum between simplicity advocates and techno-utopians. And this isn't just because there are more complex mixtures of opinions on growth/degrowth, centralization/decentralization, global/local, unified/diverse, and large-scale/small-scale than just small-scale low-tech advocates that want degrowth and large-scale high-tech advocates who want infinite growth (compare anarcho-primitivists who want a world of a few million hunter gatherers to simple living advocates who think we could feed over 10 billion with low-consumption localized lifestyles and permaculture to conservative libertarians who are against the science of evolution and global warming but still want to use science to colonize outer space to the zeitgeist movement that wants a techno-utopian world government for the sake of protecting nature to singularitarians who want maximum technological progress so we can escape the limits of nature, etc.). The two main options presented in here are actually both pretty pro-tech and pro-complex global industrial civilization, probably being best summarized by their views on how solar panels should be arranged rather than their views on whether or not solar panels should be part of the solution at all. Vogtians want solar panels on their houses and Borlaugians want huge centralized solar power plants. That doesn't exactly cover everyone. Similarly, the main argument shouldn't be about which view will best provide for 10 billion affluent humans but whether or not we should even try to create a world of 10 billion humans with American middle-class lifestyles. This question isn't totally left out, to be fair, but he doesn't spend anywhere near as much time on simpler alternatives. Being someone of the opinion that high-tech lifestyles will never be truly sustainable, I was pretty disappointed by that. He's also way too kind to those who question whether or not it's our responsibility to make any sacrifices for the sake of future generations. Many fears of energy shortages and climate disasters have proven to be exaggerated, right? So why should rich people risk losing any of their privileges (what a horrible atrocity that would be!) if we aren't 100% sure that the sacrifices will lead to a better future? I have absolutely no respect for this shit at all. When else are such arguments ever acceptable? It's like robbing someone and saying "so what? Maybe you'll meet the love of your life while standing in line at the local soup kitchen, someone you'd have never met if you were still financially stable. Your life may be better because I robbed you." Or how about "yeah, I murdered your 12 your old son but for all we know he could have grown up to be the next Hitler. If you can't prove otherwise then I shouldn't be punished." It's especially irritating coming from someone who loves to use statistics about the greater good to justify things, like how a smaller percentage of people are dying violently these days than at any other time in history and that most of us are living longer lives, etc. Most of his other arguments are about playing the odds, at least the way he sees them, but with this it's about letting people take huge risks to the wellbeing of the majority if there's even just a slim chance of them not leading to disaster. If he was following the same logic with this subject, that people have to play the odds for the sake of the greater good, shouldn't he be as skeptical about the promises that technology will fix everything as he is of the claims that technology is leading us to disaster? Techno-optimists have been claiming for centuries that we're headed for a world of leisure, one without war, starvation, disease, crime, depression, obligatory labor or anything else bad, all because technology will fix everything. Have those predictions been more accurate than the pessimistic ones warning us of potential ecocide? Every technological advancement has just led to new problems and most serious environmental studies keep finding that things are falling apart even faster than predicted. But because the most extreme predictions about a coming ice age or sudden economic collapse have been debunked you don't take any warnings seriously? It's crazy! We're not talking about a slight problem that has a slight chance of occurring if we don't all voluntarily suffer horribly for the sake of the future. We're talking about a very likely possibility of making the only habitable planet we know of totally uninhabitable unless we make ourselves a little less comfortable for a little while. In a lot of cases, people will likely end up finding that these "sacrifices" actually improve their lives. Humans aren't exactly designed to stare at computer screens all day. I know that there are more obstacles to changing our lifestyles than just getting people comfortable with the idea. Even those who want to change already feel like they're trapped in the status quo. To keep going along with this though should feel unbearable for anyone who sees where it's headed. Even the damage that's already being done to nature and to less fortunate humans should be considered unacceptable to anyone with a conscience. Reading his work, you have to wonder sometimes if Mann really cares about the environment at all. It almost seems like he's just trying to attract environmentally-minded people to read his books so he can trick them into joining the techno-optimist side. At times I wondered if that might be backwards though. He does mention some good solutions like agroforestry and indigenous land management techniques after all. Could he be trying to get techno-optimists to accept some of the ideas of the simple living crowd instead? It's really hard to tell. More likely he's just trying to double the size of his audience so he can sell more books. In my opinion, this guy's good ideas aren't enough to make up for the bad ones. I definitely don't recommend supporting him. If for some reason you do want to read his work then you should probably just borrow the book from the library or something rather than buy it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I've read about both Borlaug (The Wizard) & Vogt (The Prophet) before, but it's great to get a better picture of their lives & missions, especially where their adherents collide head on. - Borlaug believed that technology got us into this mess & could get us out of it. He's credited with saving over a billion lives due to his work with tweaking crops to grow in poor soils. He is credited as the father of the Green Revolution - crops modified to resist disease & deliver more while being fertilize I've read about both Borlaug (The Wizard) & Vogt (The Prophet) before, but it's great to get a better picture of their lives & missions, especially where their adherents collide head on. - Borlaug believed that technology got us into this mess & could get us out of it. He's credited with saving over a billion lives due to his work with tweaking crops to grow in poor soils. He is credited as the father of the Green Revolution - crops modified to resist disease & deliver more while being fertilized & protected by chemical means. He wanted to feed hungry people now. - Vogt saw humans racing headlong into Malthusian destruction & our only option was to cut back the human population & allow Mother Nature to prosper. He sees the environment as having a 'carrying capacity', being limited in what we can safely take from it. He is the father of the modern conservation movement. Both have fanatic supporters & I've rarely read a book on the subject that wasn't completely biased toward one camp or the other. The author admits to being on the fence which lends his work a balanced point of view. Since I already know something about them, I'm finding the people & politics surrounding our heroes even more interesting than their biographies & works. Conservation originally was seen as a way for the government to get more control by regulating what companies & people could do, a real danger to capitalism. The thinking at the time meant that many of the members were racists & believed in eugenics. Conservation of nature was conflated with conserving the white race. A perfect example is Madison Grant. I've heard of him before as a friend of Teddy Roosevelt & his conservation efforts. Grant founded the American Bison Society & was one of the main forces behind setting up the Bronx Zoo, the biggest & best zoo I visited as a kid. I hadn't realized Grant also wrote The Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History, was against immigration & women's rights. He was complicated & I still think he was a great man - greatly right & greatly wrong - so I applaud his good works, but don't forget his bad ones. The Sierra Club & other organizations he helped distanced themselves from him as much as possible after Hitler & company took the ideas he & they espoused to their logical conclusion. Not all of Vogt's friends & supporters were so complicated, though. He was friends with Roger Peterson, the author of the field guides, & helped him get his first one published. (Peterson's ID system for birds is fantastic, although I generally find the Audubon guides a little more complete.) Rachel Carson was one of Vogt's disciples & popularized his ideas with her fantastic book Silent Spring. Borlaug grew up on a subsistence farm. While he never went hungry, he knew how much labor went into it & how much tech helped when the family got a tractor. It allowed him to continue his education & leave the farm. He reasoned that tech had gotten us into a mess & was needed to get us out of it. People needed to eat. They were starving & that wasn't acceptable. It's a shame Borlaug, Vogt, & their followers can't see any middle ground, but what the 2 men saw in the same Mexican fields gave them entirely different visions of the future. Vogt saw worn out fields that weren't salvageable & the only solution was less people growing less food. Borlaug saw a problem that needed to be fixed & could be with the right tech. He did, but there were consequences due to improper use of fertilizers & pesticides. To make the misunderstandings worse, Vogt & those in his camp often tend to mysticism which doesn't work well with scientists. The prophets also tend to forget that people want to keep or better their standard of living. They aren't going to let any government take away their comforts for possible future generations. Most don't save enough for their own retirement. Nor can our economy make huge changes or handle too many restrictions too quickly. We also need to deal with unforeseen consequences such as invasive species. I don't like spraying paraquat. It's dangerous to me & I have to fence off the animals from the area for 40 days, a tough proposition. (I have goats & horses. One jumps over, through, & under, while the other just runs temporary fences over.) I have to occasionally due to a poisonous invasive plant that takes over the fields, though. We've changed the environment dramatically & continue to do so both on purpose (mining, fishing, farming, & habitation) & inadvertently (invasive species & waste). We're riding a runaway truck (people, economy) with very limited steering (technology) & brakes (conservation). We're mowing over the environment in our plunge & may well wind up going off a cliff, but we really don't know where the cliff edge is. Our climate models are poor guesses & everyone wants to be right more than they want solutions. Conservation efforts are needed because the technologists don't know as much as they think they do. Every day we're discovering more about the biosphere & how complex it is. Even 50 years ago, we had no idea how pervasive & important bacteria were & we're barely realizing it now. We still can't make a decent weather forecast a week out. Wetlands are a more efficient & cheaper filter than anything we've come up with. Most of all, it's morally correct. I love the land, plants, & wildlife. I don't want to see Terra covered in concrete, but the so called 'natural environment' is a figment of popular imagination. We're part of the environment & have been changing it dramatically since our ancestors discovered fire & burned off grasslands tens of thousands of years ago (at least by some accounts). The climate has changed numerous times & that was probably what stirred us into creating agriculture 10K+ years ago. We've turned deserts that couldn't support a small settlement into habitations for millions (e.g., Los Angeles). We poisoned our cities with smog from coal & petroleum fumes, but we've cleaned that up with maturing technologies. Disease, starvation, & other ills are at their lowest points ever, yet we have far more people than ever. Technology is a very powerful tool for good & ill that we can't & won't abandon. It would be really nice if we could come to some agreement on how to use it responsibly without so much wasted argument. Mann only presented the two sides of the argument. I wish he'd had space to address hybrid solutions, but the book was a bit too long as it was. Still, he's the guy to do it. In the Energy chapter, he notes that the techs want centralized electric generators while the conservationists want it to be distributed. I have several large structures that could be fitted with solar panels &/or windmills to generate electricity & feed it directly into the grid. Around here the electric company makes it inexpensive to hook up alternative power generation to their grid & pays residential rates back. Not all do. Good deal, BUT there is little data available on which to make investments & the break even point is probably too far off by any but the most optimistic estimates for solar & wind in my area. This is an area where governments could invest very little (an anemometer logging data & some expert help) to push some distributed electric generation. A little more in low interest loans, tax breaks, & other incentives would really give it push. I'd keep buying my electric from the grid because I need steady power, but I'd also put some into it to ease the central burden. No batteries needed & while it won't fix the need, it also won't be trying to force it on anyone who can't or doesn't want to deal with it. Anyway, I've had a foot in both camps all my life & really appreciated this look at both sides of this great debate. IMO, it should be required reading. I'd like to see it presented in an abridged, simplified form starting in first grade with balanced details added every year in schools. It's possibly the most complicated & important mess we face. I highly recommend this to everyone in any format. I listened to this as an audio book & it was very well narrated, but I appreciated having the ebook to review information. Mann mentions a lot of names & studies that will be interesting to explore.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Philipp

    [Borlaug] asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people weren't getting enough to eat. "Not just poor, but actually hungry all the time," he said. I told him that I hadn't been to such a place. "That's the point," he said. "When I was getting started, you couldn't avoid them." This is Dr. Norman Borlaug, next to Prof. William Erskine (who himself works in an office in my building here in Perth, we co-supervise one PhD student, he's a wonderfully kind man) (Source for the photo, [Borlaug] asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people weren't getting enough to eat. "Not just poor, but actually hungry all the time," he said. I told him that I hadn't been to such a place. "That's the point," he said. "When I was getting started, you couldn't avoid them." This is Dr. Norman Borlaug, next to Prof. William Erskine (who himself works in an office in my building here in Perth, we co-supervise one PhD student, he's a wonderfully kind man) (Source for the photo, alternatively, Willie's wall, where it hangs in a frame). Norman Borlaug worked relentlessly to start the green revolution, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2005. Norman Borlaug is my idol, and one of my main motivating factors in working in this field. This is William Vogt: Sadly I don't have a personally relevant photo there. Vogt was one of the original thinkers behind the environmental movement, at one point the director of Planned Parenthood, a strong proponent for population control. This book is, for the first few chapters, a biography of both men. They lived at the same time, looked at the same problems, even met once, but came to different conclusions on how to help people. Mann takes the lives of both as exemplars for two ways to view the world: Borlaug stands for 'wizards', who believe that for any problem there is a technical solution (notable books are Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture and most silver- and golden-era science-fiction). Vogt stands for 'prophets', who believe that such technical solutions are ultimately hubris, humanity should go back and live in harmony with nature, work on a small scale, and scale back industry (some notable books in that corner which I all detested: The One-Straw Revolution, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit - you can see I'm biased to which world-view I come from). After the biographies come four chapters which look at problems mankind currently faces, climate change, loss of drinkable water, air pollution, food, and the solutions both 'sides' have for each problem. Here Mann loses me a bit, since he shows these two worldviews as completely opposed - the wizards want to build big desalination plants, the prophets want to get people to stop wasting water and get water-saving plants. I live in Perth which has huge problems with water, yet people have green European-style lawns which do nothing but waste water in a very dry area. I want the best of the wizard and prophet world: I'd love there to be more desalination plants, I'd love for people to abandon green lawns, why can't I have both? What impresses me is that Mann manages to show the upsides of both sides, where they go well, where they go wrong, it's easy to fall into one side. What's impressed me the most is that Mann looks at both men's lives, and finds flaws in both ways to view the world. Both (according to Mann) missed the social view, ignored the social scientists' view points. Both usually ignored the structure of power - Vogt, as a representative of the rich West, was often criticised for trying to tell poor people in developing countries to stop developing. If you're poor and have no support from the state, how else are you supposed to have a stable family but by having lots of kids? Borlaug on the other hand would often ignore or not see the political side of his work, and would get frustrated by people pushing back (corruption, fear of change, greed, and especially power imbalances to which Borlaug was often blind). That is to me, the main takeaway of this book - you cannot ignore the social side of your inventions, you cannot ignore the system within which your work happens. Progress doesn't magically happen by technology alone.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    This book addresses what is, as far as the material comforts of the modern age, the central question of our time—can mankind have it all? The author, Charles Mann, does not answer that question, though I think his answer would be, if forced, “probably yes.” What Mann offers, rather than canned answers, is a refreshingly and relentlessly non-ideological work, comparing two philosophies of human development, embodied in the lives of two men of the twentieth century. The first, Norman Borlaug, engi This book addresses what is, as far as the material comforts of the modern age, the central question of our time—can mankind have it all? The author, Charles Mann, does not answer that question, though I think his answer would be, if forced, “probably yes.” What Mann offers, rather than canned answers, is a refreshingly and relentlessly non-ideological work, comparing two philosophies of human development, embodied in the lives of two men of the twentieth century. The first, Norman Borlaug, engineered the saving of hundreds of millions of lives and won a Nobel Prize. The second, William Vogt, prophesied a global doom whose arrival date has been continuously postponed for fifty years, and then shot himself, whereupon he was forgotten until this book. Mann carefully profiles each man in detail. He characterizes Vogt’s school of crying out the gospel of limitations as Prophet, and Borlaug’s call for pushing past natural boundaries through hard work and ingenuity as Wizard, clever enough names for clear enough positions. Vogt, born in 1902 and died in 1968, was an abrasive man who found it difficult to keep jobs or friends, whose abiding passion was amateur ornithology, but who rose to prominence on the basis of a wildly successful 1948 book, "Road to Survival" (a copy of which I bought in preparation for this review). Borlaug, born in 1914 and died in 2009, was an agronomist with a smoother touch and much less interest in a public role. He wrote no books, but he bred plants, specifically new versions of wheat that multiplied the global harvest, essentially eliminating famine (because of Borlaug, all modern famines are purely the creation of political malefactors, most notably the Ethiopian famines of the 1980s). The Green Revolution that has fed the world for the past fifty years was inaugurated and, in many ways, led by Borlaug. Vogt receives the first focus of the book. Mann expertly describes his life (Mann writes excellently; this book is long, but it reads like a short book), including his formative experience, being hired by the Peruvian government to analyze the ecology of the guano islands that provided natural fertilizer to much of the world, before the Haber-Bosch process made artificial nitrogen fertilizer economically feasible. The guano, of course, was provided by birds, which had boom-and-bust population cycles, based on their food supply. Vogt’s conclusion, after extensive study, was that any interference by humans with the natural cycle was ruinous; in the short term, production might be increased, but eventually natural limits of one sort or another would be reached, leading to total and permanent collapse—thus, the Peruvians should not interfere with the natural cycle of intermittent partial collapse. Shortly afterward, a new publisher offered to publish a book by him (how and why this came about is not made clear), which was wildly successful. Road to Survival’s basic claim was that, like the guano birds, only worse because of his abilities to manipulate nature, man was exceeding, or was going to exceed, the “carrying capacity” of Earth, which would lead to his destruction and that of the ecology of the Earth as a whole. Vogt’s book was glowingly reviewed (other than by the Left, which condemned it as a distraction—prior to mid-century, proto-environmentalism was a cause mostly of rich cranks, and the Left was still focused on labor), sold 800,000 copies through the Book-of-the-Month Club alone, was translated into numerous languages, and used for decades as a college textbook. And it had a massive impact on the thought of others—for example, both Rachel Carson ("Silent Spring") and Paul Ehrlich ("The Population Bomb") explicitly cited Vogt’s book as the inspiration for theirs. Whatever the flaws of his book, Vogt was undoubtedly the father of modern environmentalism (which Mann insightfully calls “the twentieth century’s only successful, long-lasting ideology”). Vogt developed its patterns of thought, its focuses, and its obsessions. He exemplified static analysis of the globe—there is only so much to go around, and in such a zero-sum game, if we do not cut back our usage of finite resources, the inevitable result will be collapse, no different than fruit flies in a test tube given a limited supply of food. That said, "Road to Survival" is also a book that has been proven totally wrong in every regard (just like "The Population Bomb," and, mostly, "Silent Spring"). Reading it now is painful because Vogt was so, so wrong. (It’s also painful because of its simpering Introduction by Bernard Baruch, a man who, like a bad penny, keeps turning up, usually in the darker corners of history, making them darker.) Sure, as I discuss below, maybe in the long run Vogt will be right in part. But “long run” arguments are inherently weak—it’s the same as arguing that Communism has never really been tried, so we should try again, just as soon as we finish bulldozing the bodies from the last attempt into a trench. More likely Communism is just wrong. And aside from the crashing inaccuracy of its predictions, Vogt’s book is equally painful for its shrill, hectoring tone and for its earnest demands for handing over global power to a new class of technocrats who will solve the problem—a million little Vogts, using their immense new power only for good, of course, we are assured. In 1948, perhaps, such ideas could be excused, but now, we know how they always end. We can see that Vogt was an ideologue from whose pages a voice can be heard, as Whittaker Chambers said of Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged," “To a gas chamber—go!” Leaving aside the fascism of his approach, if there was a core principle of Vogt’s, it was that, I his words, “mankind is a part of the earth’s biological system and is not a form of genii that can successfully provide substitutes for the processes of nature.” Along these lines, Mann profiles at some length, and keeps returning to, his own friend, the late Lynn Margulis, a well-known biologist, whose interpretation of evolution “is that Homo sapiens is just one creature among many . . . a briefly successful species,” which will pass from the scene like all others. But this is a very narrow vision, because humans are the only creatures with intelligence and the ability to think about the future. We may, in fact, pass from the scene, but if we do, it will be in a manner different in its essence from that of other past species, to which humans are only comparable on the most simplistic level. You’d think the Prophets like Vogt would agree with this—after all, they claim that man has unique abilities to exceed the earth’s carrying capacity, unlike animals like the guano birds, who stay within their limits due to natural processes they cannot change. Why the converse, that man also has unique abilities to avoid these limits, by either self-discipline or technology, does not follow to these people is unclear. Maybe it is because they are ideologically unable to regard humans as anything but animals. Borlaug, on the other hand, was the father of modern techno-optimism, sometimes called “cornucopianism”—most visible in the Green Revolution he fathered and led, but more than that, a belief that with human ingenuity and intelligence, through hard work and technology what we may have in many areas is not static. But it is up to us to ensure that there is enough for all. Born of Norwegian stock in far rural Iowa, he saw extreme hardship in the Depression, including fights over food, which affected him deeply. He wanted to be a forester, but was unable to, so he became an agronomist. He took a job funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, working in the desperately poor central Mexican lowlands to develop wheat that was resistant to stem rust, one of the most problematic North American wheat diseases. The wheat he had to work with wasn’t what we think of when we think of wheat—not only was it extremely prone to diseases, rust among them, it was inherently low-yielding, and also prone to other problems, such as “lodging” (where weak stems bent under ripening grain—wheat then was “the height of a tall man,” and much of the plant’s energy went to the stalk). Moreover, each locality had to plant a different wheat. All these problems had existed for millennia. Like Vogt, Borlaug’s reaction on seeing the poverty and lassitude of the local famers was “We’ve got to do something.” But that “something” wasn’t to tell the farmers to suck it up and have fewer children. Instead, Borlaug hand planted hundreds of thousands of different wheat plants, every single plant hand-pollinated, with the cross painstakingly recorded. He did this in both his original Mexican location and in others, against the wishes of his superiors, with whom he was often on contentious terms. Bulling his way forward and often pulling a plow by harnessing himself, he spent years trying to find plants that not only resisted rust, but had other desirable characteristics. And he got lucky (though as they say, luck is where preparation meets opportunity), finally finding and propagating a handful of ideal varieties that could be successfully planted not just everywhere in Mexico, but all around the world—whereupon he evangelized successfully for their acceptance in places like Pakistan and Uganda. It is on his work that modern agriculture, which has fed the world as it has grown, is based. So far, the distinction between Wizard and Prophet is clear. But, if you think a little, there are really two threads among Prophets. One is the warning that we will run out if we overuse resources, and so we must find the best way to maximize utility to benefit humans. This is the minority view, and shades into Wizardry, in that maximizing utility implies openness to new solutions, rather than just management of what exists now. The other Prophet view, by far the majority, and Vogt’s view, is that we are damaging our world, and that damaging is bad in and of itself, totally aside from its impact on utility. The goal is to satisfy the supposed claims of Gaia, not to help humans. These are really separate philosophies, ones that Mann does not adequately distinguish. The former is a practical claim; the latter, a moral claim. What follows is that most Prophets are fundamentally anti-human; and essentially all Wizards are profoundly pro-human. Soon enough an objective observer realizes that most Prophets’ goal isn’t achieving a balance between humanity and nature, it’s eliminating humanity itself, which they wish would just go away (other than themselves, their friends, and favored groups), so that the abstraction of “Earth” can flourish in its own way. Thus, to nobody’s surprise, or at least not to mine, Vogt quickly turned from espousing limitations to advocating extermination. His second act was to become a shill for Margaret Sanger’s infamous racist and eugenicist organization, Planned Parenthood. As Mann says, Vogt changed from being an environmental advocate who thought population control would benefit the environment, to a population control advocate to whom the environment was secondary. “The means had become the end.” (In fact, the title for Vogt’s "New York Times" obituary was “William Vogt, Former Director of Planned Parenthood, Is Dead,” giving primacy of place to that part of his life, not his environmentalism.) He wrote, in 1960, an even shriller book, People! Challenge to Survival (which I also bought), an unhinged rant demanding ultra-aggressive global population suppression, where the “People” of the title are the causes of the challenge, and it is not clear whose survival is at stake, but probably not people’s. This is the sort of evil tripe common among Prophets to this day, which they reveal in their less-guarded moments. About a decade ago, there was a vogue of such wishful death-focused thinking in the popular media, led by the book The World Without Us, which described in loving detail what would happen if all the humans just conveniently disappeared. It was actually quite interesting, and followed by various related TV specials and similar media events, but the reader and viewer was quite aware that this was, for many environmentalists, aspiration, not explanation. On the more practical level of policy, we live in a time when Wizards and Prophets are roughly evenly matched in mindshare of the public, but the Wizards are firmly in control of actual policy, certainly of agricultural policy. It is hard for us to remember that not so long ago, Prophets were the only game in town. All right-thinking people of 1970, in a way that we cannot comprehend today, wholly bought into “The Limits of Growth,” in the Club of Rome’s infamous phrase, and as Mann notes, for much of his life Borlaug was the target of coordinated vicious abuse by the powerful and famous. But the failure of their prophecies gradually led to the loss of part of Prophets’ policy power, even if they are still given platforms by various outlets. It is not coincidental that Prophet hysteria reached its peak just at the time that the movement for legalized abortion also reached its peak. The public frenzy over supposedly direly needed “limits” to humanity dictated much of the thinking of the Supreme Court in the high water mark of the pro-abortion movement, the handing down of Roe v. Wade. In fact, recently Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was not part of the Court in 1973) noted with approval that Roe v. Wade invented a constitutional right to abortion out of whole cloth in part because of “concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” The age of Prophets may have crested, but we’re still left picking up the pieces, and many of their acolytes still occupy positions of power, still hewing to that old time religion of doom and hatred of humanity. In any case, Mann does not make any of these distinctions, but after discussing Vogt and Borlaug, he turns to offering a further lengthy (and fascinating) history revolving around their ideas, focusing in turn on four different areas where Wizards and Prophets have contended over the past seventy years: food, water, energy, and climate change. Here Mann fills in many large and small details relevant to both Vogt’s and Borlaug’s lives, such as the invention and rise of artificial fertilizers, the early twentieth-century organic movement, the science of soil and humus, and the process of photosynthesis and its susceptibility to engineering. The latter involves today the C4 Rice Project, a massive ongoing attempt to “change the biophysical structure of the rice plant, making it a much more efficient user of energy from the sun,” funded by the Gates Foundation with any positive results to be given away free. On water, Mann focuses on the difference between Wizard projects to desalinate and move massive quantities of water, and Prophet projects to reduce the need for water. (It is sometimes easy to see a little bit too much of James C. Scott’s “high modernism” in Wizard projects, as Scott narrates in "Seeing Like A State," but not all grand projects suffer from the defects Scott identifies in his examples of deficient grand plans. It is all in making sure the premises are based in reality and that the execution stays cognizant of human nature.) On energy, Mann notes that predictions of imminent “peak oil” have been urgently made for, and have been decisively falsified for, more than a century. He criticizes these predictions not only for being wrong, but for being the driver of many bad policies, from our own desperate focus on controlling flow from the Middle East to endless wars in Africa. The premise, or thought experiment, or waking dream, that drives Mann’s book is the idea that by 2050, there will be 10 billion people on earth, all reaching toward affluence. For current purposes, we can accept that, but really, there is much to suggest the dream is mere fantasy. Affluence is not something that automatically arises; it is driven by culture, by age demographics, and by many other factors. There is no reason to believe that the entire world will develop to “Western affluence,” with consequent further stretching of resource needs, and much reason to believe it will not, whatever people lacking that affluence may want. Furthermore, those societies that have created and still drive that affluence are dying due to failure to reproduce, and most other global societies are following closely in their insane footsteps. That will not only prevent ever becoming affluent, but put even more of a damper on development and progress, which is driven almost exclusively by the young. China will be old before it becomes rich, and its problems are only the most prominent example of the catastrophic damage caused by the population control programs pushed by people like Vogt and his long-time ally, the odious Julian Huxley, though none of their advocates have ever apologized, since the Left never does. But let’s assume that Mann is correct—we will soon enough have 10 billion people, and they will all have a much higher standard of living than the current global mean. The truth is that, so far, the Wizards have always been right that the future can be managed, and the Prophets always totally wrong. The Prophets preach on, though, for a variety of reasons, ranging from financial gain to the pleasure of power over others to the search for personal transcendence. Still, as has been said, all apocalypses are falsified, except the last. So the Prophets may yet be proved right, if not on resource availability (Mann quotes an expert who says, for example, the best answer to “when will we run out of oil” is “never”), but on some of the consequences of our actions, specifically with respect to global warming. This is the final topic Mann discusses at length, handling it expertly in order to make sure a discussion can be had that does not drive away either the skeptics or the alarmists. In essence, he asks skeptics to assume, for the purposes of discussion, that anthropogenic global warming exists and is a problem, and he later offers an Appendix outlining evidence for that position. However, even if that is true, it does not mean that the Prophets are right in their solutions to climate change—after all, the position of a Prophet consists not only in prediction of the future, but in the embedded assumption that nothing can be done other than restrict human activity. A Wizard can, and often does, agree with the specific prophecy, and with its likely accuracy if nothing is done—but his solution is different (and that is why the pro-human Prophets usually shade into Wizardry). That is the real difference between Wizards and Prophets. And it is the real difference here as well—many Wizards think that global warming has a technological fix, just like every other problem mankind has faced. This may be false optimism—under certain scenarios, global warming could result in extreme consequences that cannot be countered (although that is always a possibility, elevated to a near certainty, in Prophet scenarios, isn’t it?). But coordinated political action is in practice impossible. If anthropogenic warming is real and a real problem, its solution is therefore likely to be a Wizard solution, not a Prophet solution. [Review continues as first comment.]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    How will humanity chose to address the future ecological problems it will face? Weaving together biography, philosophy, and science, the author presents an unbiased perspective on the two possible paths we can take to meet the challenges of supporting 10 billion people by 2050. Here are some interesting points I took away from the book. 1. Human beings are subject to the same ecological and biological constraints as all species. For example, the principle of the sigmoid growth curve states that a How will humanity chose to address the future ecological problems it will face? Weaving together biography, philosophy, and science, the author presents an unbiased perspective on the two possible paths we can take to meet the challenges of supporting 10 billion people by 2050. Here are some interesting points I took away from the book. 1. Human beings are subject to the same ecological and biological constraints as all species. For example, the principle of the sigmoid growth curve states that any population growing exponentially (including humans) starts off slowly, goes through a rapid growth phase, and then levels off as it approaches the “carrying capacity.” The carrying capacity is determined by food availability, competing species, and environmental hazards. As Thomas Malthus first formally identified, population growth tends to outstrip food supply and the destiny of most species is ultimately extinction. This raises some interesting questions for humans, such as what our own carrying capacity might be (the human population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050). Clearly, there are limits, even if we’re not sure what those might be. 2. Once you understand the concept of carrying capacity, it becomes clear that there are two ways of addressing the problem. One is to limit population growth or resource utilization. The second is to increase the availability of resources, for example by using science to increase crop yield. If you believe the answer is in cutting back and conservation, you’re following the legacy of William Vogt and the Prophets. If you believe prosperity, affluence, and science is the answer, you’re following the legacy of Norman Borlaug and the Wizards. 3. There are no simple answers. While science and technology can increase food production and energy capacity, there are costs. Humans are driving and have driven several species to extinction, are artificially warming the planet, acidifying the oceans, damaging the ozone, and altering entire ecosystems. Likewise, while conservation and environmental protection programs are valuable, in themselves they don’t produce enough food or energy to support the growing population. Without economic growth, innovation suffers and cannot solve ecological problems as they arise. It also seems contrary to human nature to want less rather than more. These are difficult problems, and I appreciate that the author, having researched the material for years, didn’t pretend he had all the answers. That makes this book a great lesson in humility and journalistic integrity in addition to a brilliant and detailed examination of the issues.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Koen

    A must-read for anyone who cares about this planet and the pursuit of happiness of all its inhabitants. Best book I've read in ages. A must-read for anyone who cares about this planet and the pursuit of happiness of all its inhabitants. Best book I've read in ages.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    2.5 stars. I was really delighted by 1493 and think Charles Mann is a really charming writer, so I was excited for this book. Unfortunately I think that while it succeeds on a micro level - the anecdotes are as brisk and interesting as ever - Mann bites off a bit more than he can chew on his macro framing. The central thrust of this book is that the global environmental movement is broken down into two dueling branches. The Prophets, embodied in William Vogt, aim to reduce consumption and attempt 2.5 stars. I was really delighted by 1493 and think Charles Mann is a really charming writer, so I was excited for this book. Unfortunately I think that while it succeeds on a micro level - the anecdotes are as brisk and interesting as ever - Mann bites off a bit more than he can chew on his macro framing. The central thrust of this book is that the global environmental movement is broken down into two dueling branches. The Prophets, embodied in William Vogt, aim to reduce consumption and attempt to live within the strict carrying capacity and balance of existing nature. The Wizards, embodied by Norman Borlaug, aim to increase this carrying capacity through centralized technological and scientific advancement. Both believe that humanity has it within itself to save itself from destruction, to make conscious choices to evade an impending cliff of self-annihilation via climate change, lack of food and drinking water, and other environmental perils. Mann is at his best when he's writing about the history of environmental ideas, tossing off a erudite avalanche of quirky scientists and their various beliefs. But I think the book is ultimately undercut by (a) simply attempting to address too much information in too short a space (Mann attempts to deal with prophetic and wizardly attempts to stop climate change in fifteen pages) (b) setting up an occasionally forced dichotomy between wizard and prophet, and (c) failing to fully integrate political and sociological issues into his science journalism. Mann clearly feels more comfortable operating fully in the past, and fully in the realm of science. Massive, important issues like the forced sterilizations associated with Vogt's birth control obsession or the stark inequalities associated with Borlaug's Green Revolution are relegated largely to side notes near the book's end. There's minimal attempts to deal with how capitalism and global political structures impact the science he's discussing. And while that would be quite a lot to handle in a book, leaving it out of his discussion often makes Mann's arguments feel hollow and superficial. He clearly wants it to be more than an abstracted intellectual history, but he tries to bring so much under his umbrella that he ultimately does a disservice to most of it. While I am sympathetic to the desire to do it, and have two central protagonists, I worry that making this the story of two American men makes The Wizard and the Prophet quite myopic, blinded to broader social and political ramifications that are absolutely necessary in understanding modern environmentalism.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    This is a must-read, in my opinion, for anyone interested in environmental issues, the future of mankind and our effect on the planet. It's an admirably balanced account of two schools of thought, represented by two amazing men who are little known but left huge legacies to our future: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, the Wizard and the Prophet, respectively. Vogt introduced the view to a wide audience that our resources are limited, and that the exponential population growth brought about via t This is a must-read, in my opinion, for anyone interested in environmental issues, the future of mankind and our effect on the planet. It's an admirably balanced account of two schools of thought, represented by two amazing men who are little known but left huge legacies to our future: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, the Wizard and the Prophet, respectively. Vogt introduced the view to a wide audience that our resources are limited, and that the exponential population growth brought about via the Industrial Age will sooner or later strain the Earth's finite resources beyond its capacity. An important pioneer of the environmental movement, he advocated a lighter footprint, limited population (an issue that coincidentally becomes more easily addressed with the advent of birth control; Margaret Sanger and the birth of Planned Parenthood is mentioned in the book), and respect for the natural world. Borlaug devoted his life to developing more strains of wheat to feed the growing population. During his life, he worked in almost impossible conditions in Mexico and India to deal with a pressing and immediate problem of feeding the hungry. You can probably see where this is going ... Big Ag vs small farmers; industrial strength fertilizers, etc. etc. While solving the starvation problem in India (not made easy by the post-colonial governments who were keen to industrialize and not particularly welcoming of interference by westerners) it inadvertently put the bulk of the resources into the hands of a few wealthy interests and left the peasant classes with little. To a lesser extent (because we are a richer country and the former farmers can go get other jobs) we can see this has happened here in the US also. We may gripe about Monsanto and its patent seeds and use of Roundup and other toxic chemicals, but at least we are not starving (in fact, we have so much food at least a third of it winds up wasted ... not in the book, just sayin.) The book has a VERY balanced account of the climate change issue. It's explanation of the effects of carbon dioxide (scientific, not political) are the best I've seen .... readable and very understandable for the non-scientist, if you are willing to peruse the many pages he devotes to some chemistry lessons. In my opinion, if you are going to debate the issue of atmospheric warming, you MUST know this stuff. Again, although he analyzed the politics involved in the issue, the author is amazingly unbiased.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Food for thought book. Well researched and referenced. Enjoyable but intense read. Charles Mann claims this is about two remarkable scientists, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, but I would claim that his book revolves around three remarkable scientists, the third being Lynn Margulis. Mann uses Margulis’s biological rules and explains Vogt and Borlaug’s work and perceptions against them. Mann starts the book by give us biographies on both men and touching on their early and most important works. Ba Food for thought book. Well researched and referenced. Enjoyable but intense read. Charles Mann claims this is about two remarkable scientists, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, but I would claim that his book revolves around three remarkable scientists, the third being Lynn Margulis. Mann uses Margulis’s biological rules and explains Vogt and Borlaug’s work and perceptions against them. Mann starts the book by give us biographies on both men and touching on their early and most important works. Basically, Vogt is more of naturalist and Borlaug gets the ball rolling on modern agriculture (it's implied he starts the GMO wave, but from what is described he created hybrids - by hand) He then breaks their theories down into the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. He thoroughly explains the position of things from both points of view. He then finishes up the book with recapping on the later years of both men. The book finishes with two appendixes – on why to believe that climate change is happening and the GMOs are safe for consumption (to me the GMO issue isn’t so much that they are safe for consumption but the environmental, moral, and financial impacts – Mann doesn’t really touch on these). There were some shortcomings to the book that prevented me from giving this a five star rating. This is because Mann conveniently left out some discussion points on topics – perhaps because they were too dicey? Also, he doesn't always analyze what he is presenting - leaving this up to the reader. After reading about the two men, I discovered I am a pretty much a Vogtian with a splash of Borlaugian.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    Charles Mann is one of my favorite pop-science historians. I loved his books 1491 and 1493, which examine native Americas cultures as they existed before Columbus (1491) and after him (1493). And THE WIZARD AND THE PROPHET follows in his tradition of writing books that captivate, combining science with human-interest, and tracking science and technologies impact on regular people's lives. In this one, Mann traces the two common responses to our contemporary climate and environmental crises. Ther Charles Mann is one of my favorite pop-science historians. I loved his books 1491 and 1493, which examine native Americas cultures as they existed before Columbus (1491) and after him (1493). And THE WIZARD AND THE PROPHET follows in his tradition of writing books that captivate, combining science with human-interest, and tracking science and technologies impact on regular people's lives. In this one, Mann traces the two common responses to our contemporary climate and environmental crises. There are "Wizards," who believe in humanity's ability to innovate its way around problems. These people prefer big, centralized, precisely engineered ideas to attack problems. For instance, these are the folks at MIT proposing we combat global warming by seeing the upper atmosphere with chemicals to create cloud cover, thereby decreasing the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth. It'll work. It's efficient and inexpensive. A geoengineered solution would allow us to keep exploiting fossil fuels to fund research into sustainable energy sources... all while avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Of course, there will still be issues this will not fix, like the oceans growing more acidic due to the carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans. But true yo form, wizards would just attack this too, taking it as another puzzle to solve. This type of Wizardly thinking gives the second group, the Prophets, heartburn. Prophets are your classic Club of Rome types, always screeching on about peak oil, peak iron, peak silicon.... peak everything. They're ones who (quite correctly) point out that humans need to live within the carrying capacity of the earth. Instead of large, centralized geoengineering projects, they want us to eat more vegetables and grow food organically, without artificial fertilizers, in order to restore the earth to a natural balance. These people may attend MIT, but most often prophets sprout up in colleges with strong liberal arts programs, like Harvard. They're the heirs of Thomas Malthus and worry about the "population bomb." And while in 2019 Prophets tend to be left-leaning progressives, the movements share deep roots with eugenics and white supremacy. Mann makes these concepts interesting by zooming tight on two 20th century figures who exemplify the ideas. There's the Wizard, Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Laureate responsible for the "Green Revolution" in farming. Thanks to his efforts at creating strains of wheat and corn that were disease resistant, high-yielding and cost-effective in the 1920s through 1940s, the number of truly starving people in the world has declined to a tiny fraction of humanity. The 'Wizard' Bourlaug's counterpart is the 'Prophet' William Vogt, the ecologist who popularized, along with Aldo Leopold. the idea of "carrying capacity." As the author of the highly influential ROAD TO SURVIVAL, Vogt inspired the contemporary environmental movement. Not only is Vogt the first author who systematically catalog and communicate these important ideas, but he was also well-connected, if abrasive. And via his connections in Washington and elsewhere (for instance, he was an early president of Planned Parenthood and worked extensively in DC and the Rockefeller organization), he snagged the ear of presidents and congressional leaders for decades. I appreciate that Mann doesn't come-down heavily on either side of these issues. Like him, I see value in both approaches. For instance, I grow an organic garden that would make James Rodale proud. And yet, I think that if we can seed ice-crystals to lower global warming at pennies, why not do it? Both the Wizardly and Prophet-like approaches are valid. Both have their places. Though I like the book, it has flaws. One is glaring, at least to me: when Mann tries to move the Wizard/ Prophet distinction into contemporary technology, the fit often grows often crow murky when things get complicated. It holds in smiple cases: for instance, geo-engineering is obviously 'Wizardly,' while growing a vegetable garden without chemicals is definitely 'Prophet-like.' But what about photovoltaics on rooftops? These rooftop arrays seem a forward-looking and tech-based solution to the problem (Wizard). But they're also more expensive than just purchasing electricity from the grid, so require sacrifices on the part of owners (Prophet). What's more, they're unattractive and hurt the look of the natural environment, which really troubles Prophets. And since photovoltaic technology is changing rapidly, the rooftop arrays are a hodge-podge, with several generations of technology overlapping. So the "systems on rooftops" paradigm is inefficient, which troubles Wizards, who are looking for efficient, engineered "best-practices" solutions. So given that complexity, where do photovoltaics fit? Mann tries to wedge them into a 'Prophet-like' definition, but his argument fails to convince. Another lack, at least for me, is that Mann, a master-communicator, is ineffective at addressing the elephant in the room: for some reason, about half of Americans don't believe in climate change. This seems more tribal that fact-based -- if you're Movement-Conservative Republican, you'll be like "screw this hippie, tree-hugging nonsense." And these people watch media, bought-and-paid-for by oil and coal, that casts doubts on climate science. So any true solution, whether 'Wizardly' or 'Prophet-like,' requires you believe in a problem before you address it. And that will take firing away at places like the Heartland institute's disinformation campaign. So in a very real way, as long as Conservatives write-off both Prophets and Wizards as irrelevant tree-hugging alarmists, no large-scale action is possible. Instead, we'll be stuck switching our lightbulbs from incandescent to LED and installing digital thermostat and [maybe] driving a more fuel-efficient car. But despite THE WIZARD AND PROPHET's failings, it's super enjoyable. It covers a topic and provides a conceptual "handle" that organizes solutions to climate change and the emotional tone folks take about the problem and its solutions into a manageable framework. Four stars. It would be five if Mann hadn't muddied the Wizard/ Prophet dichotomy when discussing contemporary solutions.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Baby liberal steps were taken in the (positive) direction of connecting historical context and social values with the application of science in society. In particular, “over-population” is a dangerous framing of several social issues. Furthermore, narrowing the viewpoints to two American scientists of the same post-WWII period is stifling. *The Good: --There is no stand-alone “Science tells us to do this”; we are presented with examples of how underlying social values offer many directions to prob Baby liberal steps were taken in the (positive) direction of connecting historical context and social values with the application of science in society. In particular, “over-population” is a dangerous framing of several social issues. Furthermore, narrowing the viewpoints to two American scientists of the same post-WWII period is stifling. *The Good: --There is no stand-alone “Science tells us to do this”; we are presented with examples of how underlying social values offer many directions to problem-solving, where the modern monolith of "science" is just a procedural tool within the problem-solving. --Social history and context of scientific thought (from carrying capacity to peak oil to climate change) is fascinating, such as the changing ideas on environmentalism and how they fit into the history that is now the present. --Always welcome going over some introductory examples of the scientific process. --Within the narrow scope of Borlaug (Wizard) and Vogt (Prophet), I can appreciate the balanced summary. *The Bad: --The social science resources provided were severely limited for handling the Pandora’s box that is “over-population”. To quote Wendell Berry: Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.--i.e. How can you address “over-population” without unpacking the immense local and global inequalities in the distribution of resources?! To not address the power structures that cause such inequalities (not to mention the profit motive's wanton destruction of sustainable solutions) will only perpetuate the assumption that it is somehow natural to the human condition. Liberal contradictions and subsequent crises provide fertile grounds for more reactionary forces. --Similar critique for floating the following idea (when considering how much to spend on addressing climate change) and not adding any critical commentary (e.g. class analysis): “If, as most economists believe, people of tomorrow will be more affluent then people today, the hazard is that we end up valuing tomorrow’s rich more than today’s poor” --To unpack power structures: Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement Debt: The First 5,000 Years --Environment and society: Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

  14. 4 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    A superb book, required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in environmentalism. Mann uses the dual paradigm of the "wizard" (Norman Borlaug, creator of the Green Revolution) and "prophet" (William Vogt, godfather of the modern environmentalist movement) to explore a fundamental question: are we doomed to run out of resources, making our planet uninhabitable (for us), and die out? This seems to be the path of every species, and after all our resources are finite. After fascinating bi A superb book, required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in environmentalism. Mann uses the dual paradigm of the "wizard" (Norman Borlaug, creator of the Green Revolution) and "prophet" (William Vogt, godfather of the modern environmentalist movement) to explore a fundamental question: are we doomed to run out of resources, making our planet uninhabitable (for us), and die out? This seems to be the path of every species, and after all our resources are finite. After fascinating biographies of the two men, Mann considers the question in terms of the four elements - earth (food), water, fire (energy), and air (climate change). The prophets' argument is the more intuitive one, so maybe it's worth mentioning that of the wizards. The scientist Warren Weaver (a man of many talents) had the idea of thinking of food scarcity in terms of physics and chemistry, not biology. People need energy to survive, which we convert into nutrients. The energy comes from nuclear reactions - primarily the one happening in the sun. Plants are good at converting that into energy. The sun provides enough energy to support scores of billions of people, as many as we have space for (though we probably don't want to get to that sardine-world - but we're very far from it). The problem is just an engineering one: developing more efficient ways of converting this energy. A good example of this is the Haber-Bosch process, maybe the most important technological development of the 20th century. Today it uses 1% of the world's energy supply, and roughly doubles food output, changing billions of lives. At the same time, nitrogen runoff from all the extra fertilizer is a massive environmental issue - if not for climate change, Mann suggests, it would probably be seen as the biggest. In a similar vein he considers issues of water, energy and climate. He tries to thread the needle with climate change, encouraging skeptics to accept the scientific fact that it is happening, while noting that because of the literally incalculable complexity of the global climate, it can be hard to say with certainty what the extent and effects of climate change will be - it could be less bad, or worse, than we expect. He also considers a moral question of how much we owe to generations of the future. Mann ultimately is unsure if we will make it, if the wizards or the prophets are correct. But he is an erudite and compassionate writer*. This is a gripping book, and an urgently needed insight in our age of environmental doom. *Minor annoyance: he has the habit of remarking on "uneuphonious", clunky names (which, in chemistry and molecular biology, is most of them...)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dana Kraft

    This was a book that changed my perspective on environmental issues and has made me think a lot more about why I hold certain beliefs. I learned about history, science, anthropology, politics and so many other things. This is also the most balanced, thoughtful and fair presentation of environmental and climate change issues I've ever read. I'm sure my family is tired of hearing me talk about this book. A few quotes I'll remember: 'He asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people This was a book that changed my perspective on environmental issues and has made me think a lot more about why I hold certain beliefs. I learned about history, science, anthropology, politics and so many other things. This is also the most balanced, thoughtful and fair presentation of environmental and climate change issues I've ever read. I'm sure my family is tired of hearing me talk about this book. A few quotes I'll remember: 'He asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people weren't getting enough to eat. "Not just poor, but actually hungry all the time," he said. I told him that I hadn't been to such a place. "That's the point," he said. "When I was getting started, you couldn't avoid them."' p 440. "Why would you listen to people who have no idea what you consider important?" p 445

  16. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    Both of Mann's previous books, 1491 and 1493, described in great detail how various societies have interacted with local and global ecology, but never before has he offered such a clear framework for thinking about the reasons why humanity can't resist the urge to mold our environment to our activities and not the other way around, and drawn such clear lines between different human approaches to nature. This is a full-length expansion of "The State of the Species", his 2012 essay for Orion magaz Both of Mann's previous books, 1491 and 1493, described in great detail how various societies have interacted with local and global ecology, but never before has he offered such a clear framework for thinking about the reasons why humanity can't resist the urge to mold our environment to our activities and not the other way around, and drawn such clear lines between different human approaches to nature. This is a full-length expansion of "The State of the Species", his 2012 essay for Orion magazine, wherein he compared humanity to a rapidly bacteria that is just beginning to reach the edge of its petri dish, and now faces a stark choice between a catastrophic decline in numbers or a gradual accommodation to the limits of future possibilities. The first attitude he terms the Prophet mindset, personified by William Vogt, a bird ecologist whose research into guano production led him to warn that unchecked human activity would lead to calamitous resource shortages. The second stance is what he calls the Wizard mentality, represented by Norman Borlaug, a Nobel-winning crop scientist whose experiments with rice and wheat created the Green Revolution that fed billions of additional people. A worthy successor to the fascinating dialogues about environmentalism in John McPhee's superb Encounters With the Archdruid, Mann's work is a detailed and scientifically rigorous look at our efforts to defy what seems like an ecological equivalent to the law of gravity: that every species eventually hits the carrying capacity of its environment, and must choose between a calm acceptance of a ceiling to its ambitions or the grim process of decline due to overreach. The book itself is, quite cleverly, structured into an analogue of the model of biological expansion it it proposes: an opening section discussing the philosophy of growth; profiles of the early careers of Vogt and Borlaug; four Element sections on the challenges of Earth (attempts to increase the yields of agriculture), Water (ensuring its future potability and availability), Fire (increasing the amount of usable energy), and Air (dealing with the issues of climate change); examinations of the later careers of Vogt and Borlaug as they each attempted to spread their philosophies; and then a brief final section reflecting on the difficulty of actually applying any of this knowledge in a useful way. Mann goes into more detail about the well-known Jevons paradox, where efforts to increase efficiency can actually increase the total amount of resources being used, in the appropriate Fire section, but right from the beginning you can think of the Wizards and Prophets as representing different arguments about the paradox. Efficiency by definition has a numerator and a denominator, and Wizards are arguing that since technological progress will mean that you won't run into absolute Malthusian limits on resources, you can keep population stable or even increase it as long as you also increase the efficiency of resource consumption, whereas Prophets would argue that Malthusian limits are inevitable, and therefore you either need to reduce the amount of people or accept drastically reduced standards of living. The discovery that nitrogen played a vital role in fertilizer, and that guano's prodigious quantity of nitrogen would make it an excellent aid to crop yields, led to a run on the vast deposits of guano on Peru's Chincha Islands. Vogt helped formalize the ecological cycle of guano production: the fact that the El Niño cycle controlled the temperature of sea currents, hence affecting the quantity of plankton, hence affecting the population of seabirds, hence ultimately determining the amount of guano, placed in his view an upper bound on the rate at which guano could be sustainably harvested from the islands in order to ship off to grow crops. Meanwhile, Norman Borlaug's experiences in agronomy implied that there were not necessarily limits to seemingly immutable biological constraints. His research in Mexico focused on encouraging disease resistance in wheat: while developing a variety of wheat that was nutritious, hardy, high-yielding, good-tasting, and rust-resistant could be incredibly tedious and arduous, if a form of wheat could be developed that was resistant to blights and rusts, then at a stroke the problem of the recurrent famines that struck poor nations could be solved. Vogt's research implied that efforts to surmount an ecosystem's carrying capacity would just lead to catastrophes down the line, as seen in the recurrent booms and busts of the seabird population, but to Borlaug, there seemed to be no humane alternative but to try to provide more food. Of course, to a Prophet, the Wizard approach seems perverse, as breeding better wheat just ultimately breeds more people, and so the four Element sections chronicle our attempts to kick the population can down the road. For Earth, Borlaug's development of better wheat fit into a grand heroic tradition of improvements to agriculture. Liebig's Law of the Minimum states that growth is limited by the scarcest factor, so past discoveries like the Haber-Bosch process to create artificial fertilizer and avoid the seabird bottleneck, and current projects, such as developing superior forms of photosynthesis like the C4 process in rice, are efforts to disprove the Malthusian maximum that population can increase geometrically while agricultural yields can only increase arithmetically. We are leaving money on the table in the form of inefficient agricultural strategies, but sustainable agriculture is difficult: corporate megafarms have acceptable yields and use little labor but are very wasteful and have a huge ecological footprint, whereas smaller and more energy-efficient farms could improve total yields but would require more labor, which for many people is a historical step backwards. Similarly, we could shift our diets to get more caloric bang for the buck, not just abandoning meat but also replacing fields of wheat, rice, and maize with fields of cassava, potato, and sweet potato and orchards of bananas, apples, and chestnuts. This would give us yields of far more calories per acre, at the cost of a radical transformation of every cuisine on earth. For Water, similarly vast lifestyle changes might be in order. There's a continual sense that much of the world is running on borrowed time when it comes to water supplies. Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert painted a grim picture of what the American West might look like once all the groundwater ran out; Southern California is the poster child for water conflicts, famously depicted in the movie Chinatown, but even though it's hard to innovate water supplies in the same way as modified wheat, Mann profiles Israel's National Water Carrier project and drip irrigation systems, which are both "hard path" and "soft path" attempts, respectively, to make every drop go farther. Mann explains that there's a philosophical split between the "hard path" of large centralized water projects, like the large dams and desalinization projects beloved of engineers, and the "soft path" of smaller solutions, like collecting stormwater or reusing wastewater. Water has been treated as a semi-public good in most countries, with cheap consumer prices on top of a vast web of complex political arrangements; privatizing water supplies is anathema to most voters, and yet decisions about how to best maximize remaining groundwater supplies will have to be made, with profound consequences. Mann doesn't cite Karl Wittfogel's infamous "hydraulic despotism" thesis about how many ancient empires used their control over water supplies to maintain power, but a future of dam/canal/aqueduct/desalinization plant megaprojects might be very different politically than one of more distributed and small-scale solutions oriented around conservation and reuse, even without veering into Mad Max/Dune science-fiction territory. This basic division between proponents of small and large solutions to problems is recapitulated in the Fire section, which concerns energy production. I remember that Peak Oil used to be in the news quite frequently in the mid-to-late 00s, as gas prices spiked, but you don't hear so much about it these days. The worry was that the suburban lifestyle was artificially cheap, due to underpriced oil, and thus doomed to collapse when gas prices made big cars/long commutes/spread-out development unaffordable. That hasn't come true (yet?), but it's interesting that people have been mispricing oil since it was first discovered (there's a funny anecdote about Andrew Carnegie digging a big reservoir of crude oil in anticipation of a big price spike caused by the exhaustion of oil supplies, seeing that there was plenty more where that came from, and then making tons of money anyway). Marion King Hubbert's idea of Peak Oil makes intuitive sense, which is one big reason why even energy corporations devote money to alternative fuels, yet the time has never seemed quite right for inventors like Augustin-Bernard Mouchot or John Ericsson to make money off of their solar power designs. I wish Mann had devoted more space to talking about the vast improvements in solar energy production spurred by Obama's 2009 stimulus, but often a big stumbling block is not so much the specific technology as how it's deployed; he discusses the opposition of many environmentalists to big solar or wind projects. I myself have similar annoyances with climate activists who won't just take the W and accept that replacing large coal plants might require large solar farms, since some of their objections are also disguised NIMBYism (see the opposition to wind farms off of Martha's Vineyard), but even if anti-nuclear sentiment is often overblown, it is incontrovertible that big projects can have big downsides, and that smaller solutions need more visibility as well. The Air chapter is all about climate change. Mann spends most of the section discussing the history of atmospheric science, from Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier's theories of thermostatic equilibrium, to John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius, and Guy Callendar's discoveries of how powerful of a warming agent carbon dioxide is. I've always had a deep respect for how difficult it is to build working models of anything, and so I appreciated Mann's explication of the intellectual work it took to go from learning that the composition of the air matters to the IPCC's current efforts to build climate models that will actually tell us something useful and accurate. Of course, the science is meaningless if we ignore it, so there's some discussion of how hard it is for humans to make rational decisions in the present about hypothetical future people. It's not worth saying much about climate change deniers, who at this point aren't going to be convinced by any quantity of graphs and charts. There's simple greed and ignorance, of course, but as efforts to address climate change have shifted from specific problems like sulfuric acid rain destroying forests or CFC's destruction of the ozone layer to more abstract issues like general carbon dioxide levels, it's become harder for even well-intentioned people to decide what to do. A classic formulation of this dilemma is "if building coal plants is necessary for China to industrialize and therefore reduce poverty, is it moral to tell them to industrialize more slowly by using renewables instead, since the poor people are alive right now but most of the people who will suffer the consequences of climate change haven't been born yet?" If you're pondering the exact relations among economic growth, environmental destruction, and planetary limits, it's not obvious you'd start with limiting China's development as opposed to, say, here in the US. Mann visits China and points out that industrialization brings costs right now via air pollution, but even if you agreed that there's got to be a better way, it's not like even fairly stodgy solutions like carbon capture are uncontroversial, and geoengineering proposals range from wackier options like dumping sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere to more plausible ones like Dune-style tree planting in the Sahara and the Outback. Shifting to renewables would bring vast new costs as well, and he relates a funny example of how difficult it would be to completely replace fossil fuels in the US: "Altogether, the Jacobson-Delucchi team estimated, the United States would need to build: - 328,000 new onshore 5-megawatt (MW) wind turbines (providing 30.9 percent of U.S. energy for all purposes) - 156,200 offshore 5-MW wind turbines (19.1 percent) - 46,480 50-MW new utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plants (30.7 percent) - 2,273 100-MW utility-scale concentrated solar power (i.e., Mouchot-style solar mirror) power plants (7.3 percent) - 75.2 million 5-kilowatt (kW) home rooftop photovoltaic systems (3.98 percent) - 2.75 million 100-kW commercial/government rooftop systems (3.2 percent) - 208,100 1-MW geothermal plants (1.23 percent) - 36,050 0.75-MW devices that harness wave power (0.37 percent) - 8,800 1-MW tidal turbines (0.14 percent) - 3 new hydroelectric power plants (all in Alaska, 3.01 percent) As lagniappe, the nation also would convert all cars and trucks to run on electricity and all planes to run on supercooled hydrogen - all the while building underground systems that store energy by heating up rock under most of the buildings in the United States." Mann returns to the fates of Vogt and Borlaug, after World War 2 when the new international order was being determined. Vogt attempted to raise environmentalism's profile by organizing events like the International Technical Conference on the Protection of Nature and working for Margaret Sanger's Planned parenthood, eventually alienating everyone but also inspiring influential works like MIT's The Limits to Growth and Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. Much like Gifford Pinchot's hopeful vision of stewardship over nature won out over John Muir's anti-civilization wilderness promotion, people wouldn't have liked to hear Vogt's jeremiads even if he'd been more personable. Meanwhile, Borlaug tried to spread his hard-won knowledge to collaborators in other countries, like Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan in India. There's a really fascinating story of how Borlaug tried to ship some precious seeds of new wheat to Swaminathan from Mexico to India via Los Angeles during the Watts riots and the Kashmir War between India and Pakistan. There's also further thoughts on how even miracles like this wheat can struggle if they aren't adapted to the local palate. The wheat Borlaug had sent was western-style, which required further crossbreeding and irradiation to turn it into the Sharbati Sonora wheat that made acceptable roti to the Indians, which brought to mind current innovations like the non-meat Impossible Burger, which people are happy to eat, just as long as it looks and tastes exactly like a regular burger and fits exactly into current foodways and avoids "GMO" technologies that people don't understand. Science is always working uphill. Mann closes the book with an account of an 1860 Samuel Wilberforce-Thomas Huxley debate about evolution. One of the key jabs that Wilberforce, who was arguing against evolution, tried to land was asking Huxley if he was descended from apes on his grandmother's or his grandfather's side. Hidden in there is a serious question about if humanity is subject to the same laws that seem to govern every other species. Earlier in the book Mann ruminated on a memorably depressing conversation with infamous biologist Lynn Margulis. "Was Margulis correct that we are fated by natural law to wreck our own future? History provides two ways of approaching this question. The first draws on the inspiring manner in which a group of scientific eccentrics and outsiders slowly built up today’s picture of climate change just in time to use that knowledge to halt its worst effects. The second focuses on the discouraging way that political institutions have been unable to grapple with the challenge and climate change became the subject of a cultural battle over symbols and values. The second approach leads to the conclusion that Margulis was correct: indecision and political tensions will give the opportunity for our wastes to destroy us. Only the first approach leads us to do something about climate change, following the path either of Wizards or of Prophets." While Mann is hopeful that we can come to an accord with the world around us, even seemingly dramatic precedents in our history that imply that humanity can change, like women's suffrage or the abolition of slavery, come with plenty of caveats, most notably that they take time. All around us, there are warning signs of a world that is being profoundly shaped by human behavior, the "edge of the petri dish" is in sight, and it's quite uncertain that we will ever be able to work harmoniously within Earth's limits (sci-fi schemes of extraterrestrial colonies, à la Elon Musk, are a tacit acceptance of this). All we can do is try.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Isabelle Duchaine

    Really makes you think about the consequences and reactions of growth. I honestly think this is a must-read for anyone conflicted about how to tackle the challenges of the future. There are legitimate debates within the field of managing (and tackling) environmental degradation and climate change. Phenomenal and will probably be one of the books I will recommend the most!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Notes of a Curious Mind

    The current world population of 7.6 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa. This will present fundamental problems. “There are about too many people for too little land” said a few years ago the BBC broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough. How to feed ten billion? How to provide ten billion with clean water? How to provide enough energy? And how to do a The current world population of 7.6 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa. This will present fundamental problems. “There are about too many people for too little land” said a few years ago the BBC broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough. How to feed ten billion? How to provide ten billion with clean water? How to provide enough energy? And how to do all these without irreparably harming our planet? To explore these challenges, the author and science journalist Charles C. Mann, brings to life two significant individuals whose ideas and work in the 1950s and 1960s dominated the social and economic policies, and established two main currents of thought that are still alive and divide opinion today. ‘The Prophet’ is the ecologist and ornithologist William Vogt whose his bestseller book Road to Survival, linked overpopulation with environmental ills, and signaled the transition from the early conservation movement to the postwar environmental movement. Exponential population growth is driving many overwhelming problems on the planet, assert those who have followed Vogt’s ideas. Unless humankind drastically reduces consumption, they argue, our growing numbers and consumption will overwhelm the planet’s ecosystems. ‘The Wizard’’ is the agronomist and plant breeder Norman Borlaug. In the 1960s, Borlaug developed a wheat variety that fed the world and became one of the principal architects of the “green revolution”. Today, he has become the symbol of ‘techno-optimism’,- the view that science and technology, properly applied, can help us meet the changing needs and demands of our fellow men. Who is right, Vogt or Borlaug? Charles C. Mann applies these two perspectives of thought to four great oncoming challenges. He takes Plato’s four elements: earth, water, fire and air, and adapts them to food, water, energy and climate change. Earth is agriculture, the food we need to feed the world. Water is drinking water. Fire is the energy we need and air represents climate change. Mann looks at how Vogtians and Bolraugians view these great, oncoming challenges but does not offer answers of how to resolve them. Instead, he carefully and insightfully examines these two different points of view and wonders how would a Vogt or Borlaug approach the today environmental dilemmas. Where do I stand? Like Mann I oscillate between the two stances. We live in a finite planet. Often the environment is seen as a little thing, just one small piece of the economy. But every little thing in our life depends upon this small piece. Consumption may be good for the economy, but consumerism is disastrous for the planet. On the other hand, the greatest resource we possess is our mind. Our creativity and inventiveness, our ability to produce ideas and exploit opportunities is our greatest hope to solve problems. Though the world faces challenges, we have made tremendous progress. The vast majority of the world’s population lives better and longer than ever before. Where do you stand? This insightful, eloquent and very-well researched book can help you find some answers to your questions. Review published on Maquina Lectora

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    A really nice look at issues of the environment and sustainability, very well written and weirdly evocative in its organization: the dueling ideology of "wizards and prophets" in their struggle to manipulate the elements of "earth, water, fire and air". On the other hand, despite its successes, I can't help but be a little disappointed, as this is the only book by Mann that hasn't drastically inverted the way I understand something. The issues are more familiar here, though he finds very interes A really nice look at issues of the environment and sustainability, very well written and weirdly evocative in its organization: the dueling ideology of "wizards and prophets" in their struggle to manipulate the elements of "earth, water, fire and air". On the other hand, despite its successes, I can't help but be a little disappointed, as this is the only book by Mann that hasn't drastically inverted the way I understand something. The issues are more familiar here, though he finds very interesting points to explore and I definitely still learned things. There's also, by the end of the book, a disconnect between the biography and the science, which made me less eager to finish reading about Vogt and Borlaug when the issues had already been covered. Mann is definitely one of my favorite nonfiction writers, though I'd suggest starting with his first two books for something more surprising. In some ways, the looks at certain related subjects in 1493 were actually more insightful than the ones he gave here, even as this book sort of rounds out some underlying concerns in that book and explores them much more fully. Importantly (and uniquely, considering the subject matter), Mann avoids taking a position on most of the important issues, which I really appreciate and is part of what distinguishes him as a writer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    The Wizard is Norman Borlaug, a son of Swedish immigrants to the mid-West, who declared that innovation was necessary for humans to survive a population explosion and the demands of the environment. The Prophet is William Vogt, a self taught but well recognized ornithologist, who warned without cuts and changes in behavior, the human species could die off like other species have. He wrote The Population Bomb. Borlaug won the Nobel Prize with his idea of inventions to help the Earth and people. C The Wizard is Norman Borlaug, a son of Swedish immigrants to the mid-West, who declared that innovation was necessary for humans to survive a population explosion and the demands of the environment. The Prophet is William Vogt, a self taught but well recognized ornithologist, who warned without cuts and changes in behavior, the human species could die off like other species have. He wrote The Population Bomb. Borlaug won the Nobel Prize with his idea of inventions to help the Earth and people. Charles C. Mann is the author of 1493 and 1491. An entertaining nonfiction writer who makes this story interesting. He also includes sections on crisis areas - Food, Water, energy, and climate change. Very interesting. Water was most concerning to me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    A scary timely look at the two main intellectual traditions of what we now call environmentalism. What Mann calls the "Prophet" strain, centered on William Vogt, is the whole "live lightly on the land, wear an extra sweater, nature is complex" rap that we all associate now with hippies although Vogt was a suit-wearing organization man in a lot of ways. The "Wizard" type, exemplified by Norman Borlaug, engineered the Green Revolution through some pretty damn strenuous plant breeding in Mexico and A scary timely look at the two main intellectual traditions of what we now call environmentalism. What Mann calls the "Prophet" strain, centered on William Vogt, is the whole "live lightly on the land, wear an extra sweater, nature is complex" rap that we all associate now with hippies although Vogt was a suit-wearing organization man in a lot of ways. The "Wizard" type, exemplified by Norman Borlaug, engineered the Green Revolution through some pretty damn strenuous plant breeding in Mexico and India. I don't think it's unfair to say that Vogt comes off the loser in this story, partly because... well, to be honest, he wasn't a very ACTIVE kinda guy. He spent a lot of his life trying to get grants, undermining his bosses, and writing books full of doom and gloom. As far as I could tell from the book, Vogt was not a source of major scientific advancements, and most of his predictions sort of haven't come true. Also his strain of thought can swerve alarmingly into racism, NIMBYism, and in some cases out-and-out fascism. Let's face it: whenever environmentalists worry about the carrying capacity of the world and how some people are having too many kids, they never bring the hammer down on the people they SHOULD be hassling: rich Americans who live in 10000 square foot hobby farms in the exurbs, but can write fat checks to environmental organizations. Borlaug, for all his faults, was a worker. He accomplished amazing feats of plant-breeding through a punishing amount of sheer grinding sweat and suffering, plus a little luck. He lived in dirty unheated shacks, pulled plows literally by himself in the broiling sun, and had cinematic adventures getting his precious seed shipped to other countries. He seems to have been a fundamentally optimistic person who never saw a problem he didn't try to solve -- even if it ended up causing other problems later, which he would also try to solve. As you can imagine, his story is just a lot more interesting than Vogt's. The real problem with the book is that environmentalism at that time was very focused on problems with population and "carrying capacity" -- basically whether everyone could be fed. Famine and disease were very real constant problems, even in the United States. That's a very different perspective from today, where most young Americans are so used to plenty that they can voluntarily choose to not eat nutritious foods or not vaccinate their kids as "lifestyle choices" that you're not supposed to judge. Now, of course, our looming problem is global warming -- which Mann tries to shoehorn into the book, but it works largely as allegory. I was quite riveted by all the sections having to do with plant breeding, and especially the part about rubisco. I had no idea that plants waste a lot of water because they evolved mostly on the Earth before there was oxygen in the atmosphere! Given that I live in an area that is more or less permanently in a state of drought, caused largely by water-wasteful agriculture, this was kind of good news. Also when you read about how agriculturalists used to speed up plant evolution -- hint: radiation! -- GMO crops start to look not so bad. I would say I was in the Prophet camp when I was young, full of self-righteous energy for recycling and eating legumes and not turning on the heat even when it was super cold. These days I'm almost certainly Wizardly in my viewpoints, partly because I can't see any real way to stave off climate change without major engineering but largely because as a programmer you quickly learn the futility of trying to fix things at the leaves instead of the trunk. If anything, this book pushed me even further in the direction of techne... but it's good to learn about both perspectives. As an aside, Mann was the focus of one of the best interviews I've ever heard, on the podcast of economist Tyler Cowen. HIGHLY recommended even if you don't read this book! Read or listen here.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    Where to even start?!? This book blew my mind!! I don't know if that is just a combination of my education and my job (both related to environmental resources)... I am sure that played a big part in it. I think anyone who works in this field should give this a read, and even if you aren't, I still think it could be eye-opening for you. I thought this book did an amazing job of trying to evaluate both world views fairly, finding faults with both, exploring the options, while leaving the final eva Where to even start?!? This book blew my mind!! I don't know if that is just a combination of my education and my job (both related to environmental resources)... I am sure that played a big part in it. I think anyone who works in this field should give this a read, and even if you aren't, I still think it could be eye-opening for you. I thought this book did an amazing job of trying to evaluate both world views fairly, finding faults with both, exploring the options, while leaving the final evaluation in the reader's hands. The book basically summarizes two prevalent world views concerning the world and how humans interact with, and it does so by looking at two men (William Vogt and Norman Borlaug) who weren't necessarily the source of the ideas, but were contemporary, both seeing a huge problem, disaster even, facing mankind. Both saw the growing human population. Vogtians (prophets) see the world in danger, being mistreated by man. They see the world as having limited resources and that humans are not able to go beyond them (Vogt strongly promoted conservation, population control, and the idea of carrying capacity). Borlaugians (wizards) see the growing population and the need to feed them, they see that there are limits but that they can be surpassed through technology (Borlaug helped bring about the green revolution, specifically, he helped develop rust-resistant wheat that produced more grain and could be grown in multiple climates). One thing that really blew my mind was how much both of these different world views influenced my education! For example, the carrying capacity was a concept taught in my ecology class! But it was also extremely interesting to learn about the basis of the idea that limited resources will limit population, following the "s-shaped curve": bacteria in a test tube... granted it is easier/faster to study population growth of bacteria than it is to study more long-living organisms like humans, but this curve has been applied to more than just bacteria.. and I feel like it was taught like scientific fact, but how much more backing does it have than bacteria? And thats not even considering the complexities of interactions. Humans aren't just bacteria on a petri dish, with only a couple variables. The second half of the book was less interesting at parts to me, but I think that was mostly because it was largely about global climate change. This is a topic that I know quite a bit about from my education as well. This book did however make some interesting points and analysis about it as it related back to the two worldviews. While the author made some good points, I don't feel like enough consideration was given to the skeptic's questions. 1) we have a limited amount of recorded climate data 2) given all of the variables, complex equations and inputs and interactions (including positive and negative feedback loops), how can we be so confident in computer models?? Of a GLOBAL climate? It seems a bit arrogant. 3) and environmentalists love to point the fingers at humans for causing this change. Again, complex equation/relationship.. without adequate proof of causation. As a christian, it was noteworthy to me that God was absent. From both world views and the author's representation. Wizards see man as the pinnacle, with the right to manipulate and take from the world without thought or consequence. Prophets (at least the most extreme) see mankind as nothing special or different from any other species, and that the limits will stop us in our tracks. The prophet's world view has allowed abominations against human kind like eugenicide, and abortion. On one hand, I feel like the call to Christian stewardship relates well with the Prophet's call for conservation. But they miss the Dominion which God gave to man, and the God-given uniqueness to man. What sets us apart from all the other species can only be adequately explained by God, and the only one who could give us dominion in the first place is the God who made us, to whom we owe the responsibility of caring for His creation. I want to keep thinking about this, and I think I could keep talking about it XD but enough for now ^_^

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    For me, Charles Mann has another home run with 'The Wizard and the Profit', 5+ stars! Mann is also the author of (among other books) '1491' and '1493', extraordinary nonfiction/history works. He is on my short list of very fine historians/nonfiction authors. In this book, Mann tells the story of the lives and works of two largely forgotten but extremely influential mid-twentieth century scientists. In 1948, William Vogt (the 'Phophet') wrote 'Road to Survival'. A hugely influential book, it fores For me, Charles Mann has another home run with 'The Wizard and the Profit', 5+ stars! Mann is also the author of (among other books) '1491' and '1493', extraordinary nonfiction/history works. He is on my short list of very fine historians/nonfiction authors. In this book, Mann tells the story of the lives and works of two largely forgotten but extremely influential mid-twentieth century scientists. In 1948, William Vogt (the 'Phophet') wrote 'Road to Survival'. A hugely influential book, it foresaw the planet's and man's doom if we continued to populate (over-populate) the earth and ravage its resources unchecked. He espoused among other things population control and severe conservation. Norman Borlaug (the 'Wizard') won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 as the father of the "Green Revolution". Borlaug saw hunger and he tried to overcome it through plant breeding and science. Essentially, the two men perceived the same problem (the land's human carrying capacity was being exceeded) and attempted to solve it in opposite directions. Charles Mann uses the story of these two passionate, brilliant, and hard-working men to address our dilemma as a species and inhabiters of earth. We will approach 10 billion strong in this century. Are we headed for catastrophe or are we capable of solving approaching major problems (hunger, climate change, resource depletion, etc.)? This is a wonderfully written, even-handed, thoughtful, calm examination of our most important questions. Highly recommended!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laurent Franckx

    It's really one of the fundamental questions facing humanity: in order to solve the scarcity of resources, should we search for technical fixes or should we adapt our living standards to the carrying capacity of our ecosystems? Charles Mann's approach to this problem is highly original: he builds his book around the lives and work of two men who epitomize both worldviews: Norman Borlaug, the father of the "Green revolution" (the "wizard"), and William Vogt, who was one of the founding fathers of It's really one of the fundamental questions facing humanity: in order to solve the scarcity of resources, should we search for technical fixes or should we adapt our living standards to the carrying capacity of our ecosystems? Charles Mann's approach to this problem is highly original: he builds his book around the lives and work of two men who epitomize both worldviews: Norman Borlaug, the father of the "Green revolution" (the "wizard"), and William Vogt, who was one of the founding fathers of modern Malthusian though (the "prophet"). Mann subsequently tackles several concrete resource problems (food, water, energy, global warming) through the lens of those conflicting approaches. Unusually for a book addressing this type of questions, Mann doesn't take sides, but tries to give a balanced assessment of each approach's strength and weaknesses- an approach our polarized times could use more often. The result is fascinating, challenging and chock-full of surprising insights. It doesn't provide any easy answers, but leaves it to the reader to be the final judge. The only minor point I can think off, is that because the book covers so much ground, it is not a bit idiosyncratic in the specific subtopics that are addressed. In other words, it is more balanced in its treatment of opposing views than in its choice of topics. If you are interested in the future of humanity, and you are sick of the straw man arguments used on social media, this is a book for you.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Superb history of the modern environmental controversy from the standpoint of progenitors. William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, ideological enemies, between them set the ground rules for today's animosity between two worldviews that, for all intents and purposes, should be working together. Unfortunately, personality and sense of mission can form deep barriers to reason and Mann gives us a historical biography or where and how this divide emerged---between Wizards, those who believe in scientific an Superb history of the modern environmental controversy from the standpoint of progenitors. William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, ideological enemies, between them set the ground rules for today's animosity between two worldviews that, for all intents and purposes, should be working together. Unfortunately, personality and sense of mission can form deep barriers to reason and Mann gives us a historical biography or where and how this divide emerged---between Wizards, those who believe in scientific and technological solutions to make the world provide more for a growing population, and Prophets, those who see catastrophe just ahead and believe the only solutions are in cutting back, doing less, leaving Nature alone. There are fundamental incompatibilities between these views, but there also seem to be more than ample grounds for fruitful cooperation. Mann is an excellent journalist, a terrific writer, and has produced a work steeped in human sensibility with no absence of technical understanding. He lays out the problems with care and reveals history that has been too long hidden beneath the myths of recent hype. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Sanchez

    The title is catchy and promises a contrast. It delivers. The wizard and the prophet tries to explain the human struggle as a species ruling the world by using two contrasting views on opposite ends of a spectrum: live within the natural limits or expand such limits. Mann uses the lives of two American scientists (no surprises there) to illustrate his point. Both men started shaping the modern discussion on two different approaches of resource management. The book offers a simplified framework to The title is catchy and promises a contrast. It delivers. The wizard and the prophet tries to explain the human struggle as a species ruling the world by using two contrasting views on opposite ends of a spectrum: live within the natural limits or expand such limits. Mann uses the lives of two American scientists (no surprises there) to illustrate his point. Both men started shaping the modern discussion on two different approaches of resource management. The book offers a simplified framework to organise the plethora of human initiatives and technologies devised to live in our planet. The devil is in the details tho. A species that doesn't respect its own limits is bound to cause its own extinction. However, curiosity and acting upon it is inherent to human nature and something we cannot escape. Will the 7.7 billion of us find the right balance? The book challenges the moral understanding of the world and there is of course no straight forward answer.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Pesek

    This book covered a topic that's relevant to anyone who cares about the environment and studies the natural/engineering sciences. I must admit that I'm predisposed to be a techno-optimist who sees solutions to pressing ecological and developmental problems through better science and management. However, unlike the author, I've come to think of humans as more integrated within natural systems and less of an exception to irrefutable ecological rules. This book was a good reminder of the objective This book covered a topic that's relevant to anyone who cares about the environment and studies the natural/engineering sciences. I must admit that I'm predisposed to be a techno-optimist who sees solutions to pressing ecological and developmental problems through better science and management. However, unlike the author, I've come to think of humans as more integrated within natural systems and less of an exception to irrefutable ecological rules. This book was a good reminder of the objective limits of growth (such as the way Rubisco limits photosynthesis) and the moral hazards that come with a reliance on technofixes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bruno Sánchez-Andrade

    What a fantastic book. We might think that the current dychotomy of tech as the solution to all, and tree hugging is new. This book not only proves its an old scar, but also brilliantly navigates both spaces.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Corina Murafa

    Absolutely stunning depiction of the fundamental ideological clash on the interface btw humans and the planet. A must read for any person concerned with climate change and a fantastically documented less known piece of recent history.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Naum

    Marvelous chronicle & essay fusion of the role of *wizard* (Norman Borlaug bio, condensed) and *prophet* (William Vogt bio, condensed) from author of the wondrous works 1491 & 1493. This offering is just as stellar. Mann delivers account in a "thinking aloud" mode & confesses he deviates from one axis to another. And this delineation could easily apply to just about any facet of any field of study. Marvelous chronicle & essay fusion of the role of *wizard* (Norman Borlaug bio, condensed) and *prophet* (William Vogt bio, condensed) from author of the wondrous works 1491 & 1493. This offering is just as stellar. Mann delivers account in a "thinking aloud" mode & confesses he deviates from one axis to another. And this delineation could easily apply to just about any facet of any field of study.

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