Wayne's Reviews > The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age

The Long Descent by John Michael Greer
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's review
Apr 29, 2010

really liked it
Read from March 02 to April 01, 2010 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** Lots of good stuff in this book, but it took me a long time to finish, given that Greer's non-fiction writing style tends to put me to sleep after a couple paragraphs. As a regular reader of his blog, The Archdruid Report, I'd seen most of this information before, but there were lots of new things I'd never seen him discuss in the blog, things that, had he brought them up there, might have prevented several disagreements he's had with readers in the comments section of his blog.

At the end of the book is an appendix I would very much liked to have studied longer, but I had borrowed the book from the library and it was already a month overdue. The appendix covered the mathematical formulas by which one can determine the sustainability of a given society and the point at which it will collapse.

Greer's academic background is in the History of Ideas, and this really comes through in the book, as he discusses not just the rise of our technology, but the changes in our way of thinking and how this has landed us in our present predicament.

In a nutshell, his assertion is this: The natural state of humankind for most of the period of human existence was that of a "solar economy," that is, we lived on what the sun and Earth provided year by year. We grew food and ate it. We burned what fuel we could cut. We wore clothes that we took the time to make from materials we gathered ourselves. Living this way, there are built-in caps on how much we can consume. Empires rose and fell in a pretty reliable cycle, and technology, too, developed and was lost.

This is how things were until we discovered a way to power machines with fossil fuels, and the Industrial Revolution began. For 300 years, we burned up not 300 years worth of energy, but millions of years worth of fossilized energy. Now that we've pretty well burned it up, we've got to go back to life as usual.

There are some problems, though. One is that very few of us know how to live without modern, oil-powered contrivances. Many soon-to-be-necessary skills and technologies have been lost or are on the brink. A bigger problem, though, as Greer sees it, is the Myth of Progress. Rather than seeing the Industrial Age as a blip in our history where we found a big stash of concentrated energy, we've deceived ourselves into thinking that our modern lifestyle is the result of our natural improvement as a species. That is, we think we're smarter than our ancestors, more clever, more innovative, more efficient, etc., and that's why we're so much more affluent and enjoy so many more luxuries and conveniences. The natural progression of this line of thinking is that we expect things to continue in this fashion: one day, we'll explore the stars, colonizing distant planets and enjoying as-yet-unimagined wonders of technology. Greer's message: It ain't gonna happen. The party's over.

The good news, if you want to look at it as such, is that this will all happen so gradually that most people living through it won't really be aware of its happening. There will be occasional downward lurches like wars and famines and such, but for the most part, you can expect your grandchildren to be living like your grandparents, and all along the way we'll be told by our leaders that things are getting better.

In a nutshell, this is great material, but pretty damned dry. If you're passionate about the subject, you'll get through the book and be glad you did. If you're not, you may just get the feeling he's beating a dead horse about something you aren't that interested in in the first place.
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Naomi Aud You are right the reading is a bit dry, haven't even set off, i should have read the reviews, i know one thing never judge a book by its cover, hmm.

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