Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World
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Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  191 ratings  ·  21 reviews
The history of the twentieth century is most often told through its world wars, the rise and fall of communism, or its economic upheavals. In his startling new book, J. R. McNeill gives us our first general account of what may prove to be the most significant dimension of the twentieth century: its environmental history. To a degree unprecedented in human history, we have...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 17th 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published April 2000)
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The one sentence review I just said to Joy was, "We tried to do good, but we had no idea what the fuck we were doing." She said that pretty much sums up the personal training field as well.

Maybe that is an appropriate one-sentence review for humanity as a whole.
Zach Holz
A very generalist environmental history of the world. With a topic that big, the book tends to skip over most of the more interesting historical moments in pursuit of a grand thesis: that humans have changed their environment throughout time. A legitimate thesis, definitely; however, if you're looking for environmental history that really gets into the contexts of particular times, the contours of particular landscapes, and the conceptions of particular people, you'd be better served with the we...more
A fascinating history of many of the environmental problems that continue to plague the world. McNeill relates these problems as a historian, replete with interesting (if at times tragic) anecdotes. Such as the day in 1952 when particularly hazy conditions combined with an incredible amount of air pollution and stagnant winds in London resulting in the deaths of 4000 people. Or the copper mine in Ashio, Japan in the 1890s which brought on so much sulfur pollution that death rates exceeded birth...more
Michael Brickey
In order to be an activist for change one must understand the multiple histories of all things status quo. J.R. McNeill lays out the facts in such a way that is informative, but more importantly, encourages you to read on. Too often a history text will lack a narrative, but this one does not. If you'd like to learn more about the environmental transformations of the 20th century, anthropogenic or not, I recommend this book.
Aug 27, 2007 Malex rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who doesn't suffer from a short attention span
Great book! A balanced, well-researched look at humans' impact on the environment in the 20th century. A good book to hand to intellectually-inclined enviro-skeptics. And, for that matter, to off-the-wall lefties.
a very basic, one thing after another history of environmental change around the world. a topic too large to be too deep. consequently, can be a bit boring.
Keith Akers
What I learned from this book is that the 20th century is not just "business as usual," much as that term is used in a derogatory way today among environmentalists. Humans really had a very profound and disturbing effect on the environment. The 20th century really was totally, totally different from anything that had happened before. It's the "hockey-stick" graph phenomenon, multiplied over and over again. He talks about cities, biodiversity, the atmosphere, the land, the oceans, everything. He...more
Kelsey Fitzpatrick
I was suggested to read this book by both a History and an Anthropology professor and I am very grateful that I did! John McNeill offers an extensive amount of valuable information at a moderate pace that is digestible for readers. Covering an expansive array of information and facts, Something New Under The Sun, does not dwell on the detriments of the twentieth century. But rather focuses on how to improve things for the future of our planet. Encompassing several environmental techniques, I tho...more
Oct 21, 2013 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Very worthwhile, thoughtful argument about how technological advances--particularly those related to energy extraction and exploitation--really did create a different world in the 20th century. The energy exploitation prism proved particularly useful for evaluating historical phenomena, and I expect to employ it in the future.

I also greatly appreciated the fairly dispassionate tone of much of the book. McNeill clearly has an opinion on environmentalism and the risks of neglect, but he was a fair...more
McNeill’s 2000 book surveys the environmental impacts of industrialization and developing nations over the last century. The availability of cheap/plentiful/clean water and cheap (albeit fossil-based) fuel facilitated the advances, but usually at the expense of the environment. McNeill has become one of the leading lights of environmental history, and this remains his most famous work. His descriptions of how we have reshaped our physical world are thought-provoking.
McNeill's approach is unique; he tackles the topic of environmental history through the environmental spheres. He looks at soil separately, then air, water, life, etc. It has a wide breadth of cultures put under the microscope and it doesn't have the haughty air of other books I read in the discipline. I don't know if I'll keep it, but it was fairly enjoyable to read!
Michael Liquori
Often-engaging book about a topic that could seem dry (environmental history). Occasional parts seem a bit tedious, like a long listing of facts, but usually one is not far from a very interesting anecdote that frames industrialization and globalization in deep historical, and not purely human-centered, perspective.
Makes a convincing case that the twentieth century is fundamentally different that what came before, due to the massive explosion in demography, energy use, etc. The body of the book is somewhat less interesting, but the introduction is a must-read.
I learned a lot of interesting things like baboons outnumbered us at the start of agriculture, the Ogallala under the Great Plains is over 10,000 years old and moving inches a year. Humans are the most efficient converters of energy.
This is a really cool book- but its breadth somehow undercuts its depth. Probably a great jumping off point for find references for a number of different topics. Well worth the time you might take to read it.
Apr 26, 2009 Juha rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anybody interested in environment, indeed 20th century history.
Recommended to Juha by: Howard Stewart
This is a superb book. Very clearly written and well organized. It is factual and very balanced in its presentation. Only in the final chapter, 'So What?', does the author let in his own views.
A little dated as this edition I read was from the 90s. A good overview, while the readable writing style makes up for the sometimes dry subjects..
Depressing, of course, but written in an even-handed way. The introduction is quite witty, the rest fairly dry. Didn't quite finish it.
Impeccably researched and let's the facts speak for themselves instead of taking on an alarmist tone
This book was great at offering new ways to interpret well worn history.
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