Debbie's Reviews > A Short History of Progress

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright
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's review
Aug 28, 09

bookshelves: bookclub-reads, non-fiction
Read in August, 2009

This book should be compulsory reading for all world leaders. It is a collection of the lectures that Ronald Wright originally gave as part of the prestigious Canadian Massey Lecture series where an international scholar is invited to give a week long series of lectures on a political, cultural or philosophic topic.

Wright's chosen topic was the way in which advanced civilisations have historically and repeatedly destroyed themselves by becoming too successful and destroying the very environments that initially enabled them to flourish.

Wright uses historical case studies of Easter Island, Sumerian, Mayan and Roman civilisations as examples of extremely successful and advanced civilisations which exhausted their natural resources through greed and untrammeled growth and paid the price. He argues that our global twentieth century civilisation is following the same pattern, but that the consequences for us will be far greater because of our huge population and inter connectedness. As he states, 'pesticides sprayed in China condense in Antarctic glaciers and Rocky Mountain tarns.'

While Wright's lectures are very sobering and scary, he offers the belief that we have the ability to turn things around because we can learn from the mistakes made by past civilisations and put in place the steps to avoid repeating them. I only wish I shared this belief. I think it highly unlikely that our world leaders will have the backbone to adopt the long term thinking needed to avoid the environmental crisis we are headed towards.

This is an extremely well argued and well written book that covers a subject of incredible relevance and topicality. Everybody should read this.
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