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A Green History of the World: The Environment & the Collapse of Great Civilizations
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A Green History of the World: The Environment & the Collapse of Great Civilizations

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  352 ratings  ·  39 reviews
This study of world civilizations argues that humans have built prosperous societies by exploiting the Earth's resources, only to expand too much and collapse. The book argues for a realization of the finite nature of our resources, and the impact should we continue squandering them.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 1st 1993 by Penguin (first published 1991)
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Clive Ponting tackles the challenge of telling world history through the lens of environmentalism. The book is informative and interesting, but I found it dry and clinical, with an overemphasis on numbers and percentages.

The main thesis of the book is that there were two great transformations in human society (the invention of agriculture and then the predominant use of non-renewable resources and fossil fuels to obtain our energy needs) that have had huge impacts on the environmental degradatio
Anthony Howarth
I read this book about 20 years ago and have now re-read it in the new updated version - A New Green History of the World. It did not disappoint.

For me it is one of,if not the most important book I have read in my life. Certainly out of probably about 3000 books it is in the top two or three. I do not find Ponting dry, as some have said. I find him angry and unrelenting in his presentation of fact after fact, of case study after case study. Instinctively I know that he is right. Right in his ove
Regan Norris
This book began well, and does offer some interesting insight, but while I anticipated a lot more reconstructions via archaeology of historical situations, what I got was mostly an indictment of colonialism and imperialism, for its exploitative practices in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the post-colonial fallout of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. As informative as Ponting's catalog of offenses is, after reading Diamond and Fagan, I'm surprised at the dearth of pre- ...more
Mimi Somsanith
I'm fortunate to have learned my lesson from previous reads and go through the Table of Contents before suffering throughout most of this book. The last handful of chapters I read was enough to keep me awake. It seems as though most civilization/environmental books go through a version of history and development similarly with few points here and there that are cool to know.
Kind of a People's History of the World, but from an environmental perspective. Not as good a writer as Zinn, but readable. It is a hugely informative book if you are interested not only in environmental history, but in the imperialist practices that have left some nations unable to feed or support themselves, while Western nations bask in surplus.
May 15, 2011 Peter added it
Thorough look at the human impact on the environment from hunter/gatherer times to the present. Particularly interesting information on how some well-known civilizations like Rome, Easter Island, and even the fabled Atlantis may have brought about their own doom by damaging their environment. Very dense with information and somewhat dry, but a great reference.
Nick Mather
This is an important, disturbing, and compelling book. Ponting provides a history of the world that illustrates nely 10,000 years of environmental degradation caused by humans. The writing is free from rhetoric and based solely on an abundance of facts making it next to impossible to ignore.
Another influential read for me. This book may not be a towering classic, but was an accessible path for me into history from an environmental perspective.

Although I was basically born an environmentalist, the books I read at this time in my life formed the foundation of my thinking.
Michael Kearney
Just a short note. I did a lot of skimming here. It was just the nature of the book, fact after fact. I wish he would have used some notes. I can't imagine a pub. letting him get away with not backing up his writing.
Kevin Belanger
Required book for Environmental Sociology... really dense, and I'd love to have time to really sift through it.
I used to think that people would never destroy their home (earth) intentionally knowing quite well their children and children's children would be faced with a bleak existence. We can all agree that if we love someone we want to guarantee food, water and shelter security if we can right? Why else do we tell them to eat their vegetables, fasten their seat belts and wash their hands. Sure certain patriarchs do not care about the rest of the world, but their own kids and their kids kids? Well that ...more
Unfortunately, I didn't really learn anything new, but I had never seen a book that confirmed what I had empirically observed. Having visited the entire Mediterranean area and Middle East I saw the signs of historic deforestation and overgrazing and bad agricultural practices. I recognized the signs I had grown up recognizing in the American Southwest. So seeing Greek islands rendered barren from grazing sheep and goats, is was no stretch to imagine the earlier civilizations destroying their env ...more
Julia Jackson
Well, i can't lie, about 2/3 of the way through I started skimming and then I basically skipped the last 3 chapters, or REALLY skimmed them.
It's a good book, but I found the beginning the most information because it contained stuff that was mostly new to me. The last half of the book made points that I was already aware of and then supported those points with way more information than I was interested in.
I think I would recommend this book over Collapse (by Jared Diamond. Although it contained
Fascinating outline of man's cultural evolution and how it has been built upon the utilization of natural resources of the planet. The theme of extreme increase in this expansion in last 200 years with industrialization rings very clearly. Only negative score on the survey of human progress (and parallel inequalities) is that the message is clearly activist and intent on inacting change. Sort of obviously bleeds through that Ponting is British with a strong opinion that America (and her policies ...more
Keith Gigliello
This is basically a textbook. Really tough to read the whole thing straight through. However it’s very informative and gives you a factual account of human interaction with our environment from the time of hunter gathers to modern day humans. You understand that humans as a species have used the planet for our own needs without thinking of the consequences for most of our time on this planet. It’s kind of depressing at times however I still recommend this book because it will make you appreciate ...more
Very, very thorough - this would make a great textbook for a class on environment and world development. Most of this was stuff I learned in archaelogy & anthropology classes but not necessarily from this viewpoint. Especially provoking are the chapters on "Ways of Thought" and "The Creation of the Third World" which in a perfect world would be required reading for any Western Civ class. My only problem with this book is addressed by the author in the beginning - it offers no solutions, only ...more
The book was incredibly informative and did a good job making its argument. The first parts of the book discussing what we know of the oldest civilizations were fascinating, and the perspective it gave by covering human civilization from the hunter and gatherer period all the way through the early 21st century was just cool. The editor didn't do a very good job though, for a second edition there were a lot more typos than I expected.
Mickey Somsanith
Feb 14, 2008 Mickey Somsanith rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: favorites
This is a great book! If you wanted to learn about different societies, and how they met their demise. It's a very depressing book, but at the same time it has a lot of facts in it, and it'll give you a chance to see beyond your own world. Read it and I believe that you'll love it, if not, then at least you've opened your mind to a whole new perspective.
Mike Stolfi
More interesting than Guns Germs & Steel, which leaves out less dramatic inputs like the impact of the European cultivation of the potato which allowed their population to soar & eventually conquer the planet with the aforementioned arsenal. I liked the breadth of the book on the subject, tho' of course the implications are kind of a downer.
Thoroughly reflective and important classic.

Despite this book's green deterministic bent, it certainly makes it hard, actually impossible, to deny that overexpansion and the exhaustion of available natural resources have played key roles in the collapse of all great cultures in human history.

while i read this i see out of the corner of my eye an old old print-out of Harvard classics I meant to read before graduating from college. i've only the first page, but i'm 0 for 0, so why not read a book about a collapsing civilization? just how many canons are out there? really, i want to know.
Greg Bruce
Very informative book looking at history from an environmental perspective. A little disappointed with the ending about it historically being too soon to conclude whether or not high-energy/high-consumption societies are sustainable. All the evidence in the book points very strongly to no.
I read this book for a history of environment class. it was one of the best perspectives on history I ever read. from diseases to agriculture... Completely fascinating. a new edition was recently released. i think that I may just have to read that one too.
This book is a history of human civilization from the perspective of human impact on environment. Interesting perspective for history/ environmentally interested readers. Not as insightful as you'd like.
Jan 05, 2014 Alper added it
Shelves: history-hc
Totally made me rethink the way I viewed human history as being much more interconnected with our environment and the randomness of nature than we like to admit.

Adam Gutschenritter
A very good summary of the environmental history of the world. I found about half way the story kept repeating. Which I guess is what history does.
Ott Maidre
Natuke jäi liialt faktidesse kinni - kordan samu keskkonnakeemilisi protsesse uuesti-uuesti üle, et jõuda see-eest huvitavate seoste kokkuvõtmisega.
thorough book covering the history of the planet and the rise and fall of civilizations. solidly shows the green perspective on macro-issues.
Jan 18, 2009 Patsy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in sustainable practices
Ponting has brought out an updated version of his study of civilizations and their failure to consider the limits of finite resources.
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