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Little Ice Age

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  991 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
The Little Ice Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable, and often very cold years of modern European history, how this altered climate affected historical events, and what it means for today's global warming. Building on research that has only recently confirmed that the world endured a 500-year cold snap, renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increa ...more
School & Library Binding, 246 pages
Published December 24th 2001 by Tandem Library (first published 2000)
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Dana Stabenow
Nov 07, 2014 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dossier on a 550-year European cold snap compiled from tree rings, ice cores, and the accounts of country clergymen and gentlemen scientists. Do we make the weather, or does it make us?

Because the Arctic ice pack receded during the Medieval Warm Period, Fagan writes, the Vikings invaded Europe from England to Tuscany and even Constantinople. Because the Arctic ice pack receded the Atlantic cod moved north and provided a food source for regular trips to Greenland, which the Vikings then coloniz
Emma Sea
My favourite kind of pop-science writing! This is so easy to read, and supported by a ton of references and further reading without unbearably cluttering up the text. The only part which I'd rate less then 5 stars is the conclusion. I'm not sure if Fagan's publishers wouldn't let him write something more realistic, but the notion that humans will suddenly decide to "work for the global rather than the national good, for the welfare of our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren rather than to satis ...more
I like to think that I know a lot about history. Periodically, authors like Brian Fagan teach me how much more there is to know. This book is bursting with information about how the Medieval period I thought I understood,was formed and influenced by factors I didn't know or didn't understand. Let's start with style. Fagan is a dynamic writer. He moves his narrative along swiftly and surely like a championship skier on a difficult downhill. We get the thrills and not the spills. When I say thrill ...more
May 21, 2013 Kristin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm a climatologist reading a book on climate by an anthropologist, so I'm going to be skeptical. I enjoyed the history of agricultural development in Europe and the North Atlantic, especially passages such as this:

"Filthy, clad in rags, barely surviving on a diet of bread, cheese, and water, the rural worker of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain was a far cry from the attractive, apple-cheeked villager so beloved of artists and greeting card companies." [page 146]

I was less satisfied wi
Apr 17, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2009
Technically I did not finish this, since I had to take it back to the library before I could finish the last three chapters, but I did skim them. So, I read this book. In its entirety. Don't try to talk me out of it.

Very informative! It seems that weather gets ignored a lot in history, when weather played a pretty big role in deciding the survival of life itself in the pre-industrial world. The only time it gets mentioned, really, is when it plays a large role in some single struggle, like the w
Caroline Caldwell
Dec 06, 2013 Caroline Caldwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched, but definitely biased, look at the interaction between humans and the natural world we inhabit. I felt a little talked down to and manipulated by the direction of the narrative, but the facts are interesting. I just wish he would have left out the diatribe at the end about how global warming was going to do crazy stuff and we aren't doing anything to stop it. It was immature on his part. I think it is much more powerful to let the facts to speak for themselves. I appreciate th ...more
Apr 22, 2008 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, geography
The amount of time Fagan must have spent in dark and dusty European archives blows my mind. His research uncovers forgotten records in amazing detail. Unfortunately, the book could use an equally fastidious editor. Very interesting, if poorly organized. I still recommend it, though!
Richard Reese
Mar 22, 2015 Richard Reese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once upon a time, Brian Fagan became curious about how history has been shaped by climate. He did a remarkable amount of research, and then delivered a fascinating and very readable book, The Little Ice Age. Mainstream history tends to focus on rulers, empires, wars, and technology, providing us with a pinhole perspective on ages past. Fagan used a wide angle lens, and revealed how the miserable peasantry of Europe struggled to survive in a world of daffy rulers, steamroller epidemics, wildly er ...more
Brian M. Fagan's The Little Ice Age is a fascinating general history of Europe that focuses on the role of climate change (specifically, the five and a half centuries of extreme cold and unsettled weather that affected Northern Europe from 1300 to 1850.) The book is strongest when Fagan focuses the early parts about the Medieval Warm Period and the abrupt changes in that occurred in the 14th century; the later chapters are more cursory, although the history of agriculture in 18th century France ...more
May 30, 2016 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a surprisingly interesting little book. It’s another one of those I read because someone else told me to, but I’m glad I read it. When people start a sentence with “I’m not a scientist, but…,” everything that follows “but” is just proof that they aren’t scientists. I too am no scientist. So I RELY on scientists, rather than dismiss what they know a lot more than me about. This book makes some good scientific points. Fagan discusses the role that climate change has played in the past mil ...more
Elliott Bignell
Apr 12, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As the title of this review suggests, Fagan brackets the Little Ice Age (LIA) between European famines which bookmark the beginning and the end. What he does not so neatly do is pin it down as a single phenomenon with a single cause. Indeed, as he writes, it has only recently been established that it was truly global at all. The picture he paints is more one of an extended period of chaos and extreme events driven by at least three causes and punctuated by warmer, more clement climes. His causes ...more
Al Sevcik
Apr 29, 2014 Al Sevcik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Weather during the (roughly) 500 years of the Little Ice Age – from 1400 to 1900 was not uniformly cold. It was erratic with hot and dry spells interspersed with bitter cold, and an overall average temperature several degrees colder than before or after. Most people (in Western Europe) were farmers who barely grew enough food in one season to tide them over until the next. A year or two of bad harvests meant that tens and hundreds of thousands would die of starvation and of disease resulting fro ...more
Sandra Strange
So often the forces that shape history are barely acknowledged in history courses. Here's an example: the little ice age which determined SO MUCH of what happened politically, socially and economically from 1300 to 1850! And as a history major, I had NEVER heard anyone mention it! This interesting account will give insight into how much weather shapes history.
Sep 03, 2015 Matt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I found The Little Ice Age interesting in concept, but tough to fully endorse in practice. If I had to paraphrase the book's thesis statement, it would be as follows: "Weather patterns have affected human history." Hardly an earth-shattering assertion. To boot, Fagan's attempts to bridge human history with explanatory science always seem to fall a bit short in one discipline or the other, if not both.

On the science side, part of the issue stems from the sheer complexity of explaining away year-o
Randy Evans
"The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850" by Brian Fagan is what the name implies, a history book. Nearly all of the book is on European history though the Little Ice Age (1300-1850). European history though this time frame seems to be one disaster after another. Life it seems was not kind to most and while the author puts a large slice of the blame on climate and climate change I would guess a larger piece of the pie should go to leaders of the time which did little to improve th ...more
Daniel Watts
Despite the title, this is not so much a book about the Little Ice Age as a series of chapters on the theme of the role of the climate on human history and in particular the history of North Western Europe which are framed around roughly the period of Little Ice Age. Therefore what is given in this book is not really a coherent historical narrative, as such, but a series of chapters covering events and themes such as the Great Medieval Famine of 1315-1317, the expansion of glaciers in the Early ...more
David King
Jul 04, 2015 David King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Explains the (gasp-shock) global warming period at the turn of the first millennia that spawned the exploration, conquests, and settlements of the Vikings and other tribes. This was followed by several centuries of climactic upheaval that withered once-fertile colonies (Greenland and Iceland), while forcing fishing vessels to chase their prey further and further west. Among the intriguing stories sprinkled through the book is the naming of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. This book provides a nee ...more
Feb 25, 2016 Ethan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brian-fagan
Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age details the history of the period between 1300 & 1850, where the world experienced a global cooling period marked by cooler winters and summers but also extreme short term swings between hot and dry and cold and wet temperatures. He focus's mostly on Western and Northern Europe, touching here and there on America and the East.
Fagan culls his data from an extremely wide range of data, from ice cores to wine harvest dates, personal journals, even paintings, and
Lucy Pollard-Gott
Jan 07, 2014 Lucy Pollard-Gott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-ages
Clear explanations of historical climate dynamics, as far as climatologists understand them, for the layman. If you are curious about the Medieval Warm Period, which enabled Viking ships to navigate northern waters to the British Isles, Iceland, and North America, this is the scientific history for you. But this only prepares the reader for the shock of the Little Ice Age, nearly 500 years of cooling and erratic growing seasons (sometimes too wet and warm, paradoxically) that led to great famine ...more
Liz Polding
Apr 05, 2016 Liz Polding rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this quite a long time ago and finally got round to reading it. It was a surprisingly easy read, given that it includes quite a lot of scientific data which could have made it rather heavy going in the hands of a lesser writer. In places it was actually rather alarming in terms of extrapolating likely developments resulting from climate change.

I've read quite a few books which make reference to the bitter winters of the period up to 1850, in particular the Thames freezing over in Elizab
Mel Foster
Jul 06, 2016 Mel Foster rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who genuinely wants to understand climate change, ag history buffs
This book discusses the effects of climate on human society not only during the period 1300-1850, but the periods before and after as well. As such, climate change is discussed in its proper context, over centuries, rather than years. Fagan discusses a number of ingenious ways of extrapolating meteorological data from times and locations (this is mostly a Eurocentric book however) outside the scientific era. These include ice cores, tree rings, and other well-known methods, but also such methods ...more
Gail Amendt
This book should not have taken me nearly three weeks to read, but it was a bit dry and I was really busy, so I wasn't motivated to make time to read. It was actually quite interesting, dealing with the effect that climate has on historical events. The period from the early 1300's to the late 1800's was markedly colder than the preceding centuries, thus becoming known to some as the Little Ice Age. Colder weather and extreme weather events put a strain on food production and shipping, among othe ...more
Timothy Riley
There is some really great, well researched information here about plagues, famines, droughts, ice storms, etc. I got the drift that some nations have been more affected than others because of the crops they choose-or have access to. Britain was able to largely avoid the later famines while France was not. Britain was able to depend on the potato a great deal-obviously the irish famine could have been largely avoided had the British not been so nonchalant about the deaths of 1 million people.

Jul 02, 2012 Dale rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice little book marred by the insertion of a unnecessary global warming chapter.

Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 is, by definition, an introduction to the climate phenomenon of the same name. Actually, it is quite similar to a History Channel documentary of the same name. On page xix Fagan notes that historians are either "parachutists" (big picture) or "truffle hunters" (love all of the details of one particular era or topic). Fagan warns that this is a p
Margaret Sankey
Using climate modeling based on ice cores and tree rings, archaeologist Brian Fagan tracks the social and economic effects of the chilling, centuries-long turn in the weather over Western Europe during the critical period of 1300-1850. From the wet summers that created sickly people for the coming black plague, the mud of Agincourt, the rise of the Hansa, the collapse of the Greenland colony, silting of crucial medieval ports and the opening of others, the brutality of subsistence farming, death ...more
Fascinating overview of climate cooling/warming from 1300-1850 (with additional info up through the 1970s). Focus is on Northern Europe--England, Ireland, France, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, with additional info from around the world to illustrate worldwide cooling/warming.

For me, two things are especially interesting:
--Fagan describes the climate-driven enclosure process in England, which left the poor with no access to land, and describes their becoming very poor farm laborers, driving im
Apr 08, 2015 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I've first learned about the climatic features of this period of time, I've wanted to read this book. I found The Little Ice Age to be very informative and interesting. It was a shorter, quicker read than I expected, but it was well researched with many first person accounts. It leans more toward social science references rather than physical science references which I found unbalanced. Mr. Fagan's doomsday warning at the end came as no surprise to me. It did have a tinge of hope for human ...more
Ashley Cunningham
For whatever reason, the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age are an interesting topic to me, so when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, I figured it would be an informative read.

It was an interesting read. I liked getting the big picture of these two climate periods, and Fagan's writing kept me going on. His list of the powerful storms and the political and social chaos often associated with unstable weather was eye-opening and sobering. I also liked how Fagan showed how t
Sep 05, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good book on the impact of climate on human culture and some events, especially in Northern Europe which is the region for which we have the most record keeping relating to climate. The book gives a narrative of the changes in atmospheric patterns during the Middle Ages and how that affected the seasonal weather in Europe. It then relates those changes to the course of European history, especially their impact on the food supply

Since medieval Europe was primarily an agricultural society, ch
Jan 06, 2014 L. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am typically a fan of Fagan's work and have enjoyed some of his books in the past, this one however, fell flat for me. While the subject matter was obviously well researched I found many of the connections drawn between different periods and different geographic areas shaky and not particularly beneficial to the continuity of the overarching subject matter. I realize that the little ice age had many contributing factors and took place over a large span of time however, it was very easy to forg ...more
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Brian Murray Fagan (born 1 August 1936) is a prolific author of popular archaeology books and a professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Fagan was born in England where he received his childhood education at Rugby School. He attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied archaeology and anthropology (BA 1959, MA 1962, PhD 1965). ...more
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“The heyday of the Norse, which lasted roughly from A.D. 800 to about 1200, was not only a byproduct of such social factors as technology, overpopulation and opportunism. Their great conquests and explorations took place during a period of unusually mild and stable weather in northern Europe called the Medieval Warm Period-some of the warmest four centuries of the previous 8,000 years.” 0 likes
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