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The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,600 ratings  ·  407 reviews
From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493--an incisive portrait of the two little-known twentieth-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the twenty-first century will choose to live in tomorrow's world.

In forty years, Earth's po
Audio CD, 640 pages
Published January 23rd 2018 by Books on Tape
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Karl Geiger It's 462 pages, plus two appendices. The remainder of the book is acknowledgements (3 pp), table of abbreviations (2 pp), 50 pages of chapter notes, 5…moreIt's 462 pages, plus two appendices. The remainder of the book is acknowledgements (3 pp), table of abbreviations (2 pp), 50 pages of chapter notes, 54 pages of citations, and an index.(less)
Karl Geiger It's 462 pages, plus two appendices. The remainder of the book is acknowledgements (3 pp), table of abbreviations (2 pp), 50 pages of chapter notes, 5…moreIt's 462 pages, plus two appendices. The remainder of the book is acknowledgements (3 pp), table of abbreviations (2 pp), 50 pages of chapter notes, 54 pages of citations, and an index.(less)

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Charles Mann has written some wonderful books. I read two of them, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and they are both excellent. And, this book follows in the same vein; while it is about a completely different subject (the twentieth century rise of environmentalism), it is equal in quality to his previous books.

Humans grab between 25% and 40% of the entire world's output of land plants and animals. All other species rise
Peter Tillman
A good, if overlong, book about technical progress (Wizards) vs. environmental activism (Prophets). More or less. Mann does a good job of remaining even-handed in this long-running debate, which became prominent (in the US) with John Muir vs. Gifford Pinchot in the early 20th century. Mann picked William Vogt as his Prophet poster-boy. I’d never heard of Vogt, an ornithologist who studied the guano islands off Peru in the 1940s, and went on to activism. And I had trouble remembering who were the ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really didn't think I'd ever waste my time reading another new book by Charles Mann. After he came out with his article claiming that fossil fuel supplies are infinite, I lost all respect for him. I had actually liked 1491 and 1493, finding some ideas to be a bit questionable but for the most part being pretty good books. At first I couldn't even believe that the article could have been written by the same guy who wrote those. Looking around for more solid evidence of his insanity, I found an ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've read about both Borlaug (The Wizard) & Vogt (The Prophet) before, but it's great to get a better picture of their lives & missions, especially where their adherents collide head on.
- Borlaug believed that technology got us into this mess & could get us out of it. He's credited with saving over a billion lives due to his work with tweaking crops to grow in poor soils. He is credited as the father of the Green Revolution - crops modified to resist disease & deliver more while being fertilize
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

[Borlaug] asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people weren't getting enough to eat. "Not just poor, but actually hungry all the time," he said. I told him that I hadn't been to such a place. "That's the point," he said. "When I was getting started, you couldn't avoid them."

This is Dr. Norman Borlaug, next to Prof. William Erskine (who himself works in an office in my building here in Perth, we co-supervise one PhD student, he's a wonderfully kind man)

(Source for the photo,
Charles Haywood
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book addresses what is, as far as the material comforts of the modern age, the central question of our time—can mankind have it all? The author, Charles Mann, does not answer that question, though I think his answer would be, if forced, “probably yes.” What Mann offers, rather than canned answers, is a refreshingly and relentlessly non-ideological work, comparing two philosophies of human development, embodied in the lives of two men of the twentieth century. The first, Norman Borlaug, engi ...more
2.5 stars.

I was really delighted by 1493 and think Charles Mann is a really charming writer, so I was excited for this book. Unfortunately I think that while it succeeds on a micro level - the anecdotes are as brisk and interesting as ever - Mann bites off a bit more than he can chew on his macro framing.

The central thrust of this book is that the global environmental movement is broken down into two dueling branches. The Prophets, embodied in William Vogt, aim to reduce consumption and attempt
Ryan Boissonneault
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
How will humanity chose to address the future ecological problems it will face? Weaving together biography, philosophy, and science, the author presents an unbiased perspective on the two possible paths we can take to meet the challenges of supporting 10 billion people by 2050.

Here are some interesting points I took away from the book.

1. Human beings are subject to the same ecological and biological constraints as all species. For example, the principle of the sigmoid growth curve states that a
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone who cares about this planet and the pursuit of happiness of all its inhabitants. Best book I've read in ages. ...more
Nancy Mills
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read, in my opinion, for anyone interested in environmental issues, the future of mankind and our effect on the planet. It's an admirably balanced account of two schools of thought, represented by two amazing men who are little known but left huge legacies to our future: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, the Wizard and the Prophet, respectively.
Vogt introduced the view to a wide audience that our resources are limited, and that the exponential population growth brought about via t
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Food for thought book. Well researched and referenced. Enjoyable but intense read.

Charles Mann claims this is about two remarkable scientists, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, but I would claim that his book revolves around three remarkable scientists, the third being Lynn Margulis. Mann uses Margulis’s biological rules and explains Vogt and Borlaug’s work and perceptions against them.

Mann starts the book by give us biographies on both men and touching on their early and most important works. Ba
Leo Walsh
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charles Mann is one of my favorite pop-science historians. I loved his books 1491 and 1493, which examine native Americas cultures as they existed before Columbus (1491) and after him (1493). And THE WIZARD AND THE PROPHET follows in his tradition of writing books that captivate, combining science with human-interest, and tracking science and technologies impact on regular people's lives.

In this one, Mann traces the two common responses to our contemporary climate and environmental crises. Ther
Baby liberal steps were taken in the (positive) direction of connecting historical context and social values with the application of science in society. In particular, “over-population” is a dangerous framing of several social issues. Furthermore, narrowing the viewpoints to two American scientists of the same post-WWII period is stifling.

*The Good:
--There is no stand-alone “Science tells us to do this”; we are presented with examples of how underlying social values offer many directions to prob
Josh Friedlander
A superb book, required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in environmentalism. Mann uses the dual paradigm of the "wizard" (Norman Borlaug, creator of the Green Revolution) and "prophet" (William Vogt, godfather of the modern environmentalist movement) to explore a fundamental question: are we doomed to run out of resources, making our planet uninhabitable (for us), and die out? This seems to be the path of every species, and after all our resources are finite. After fascinating bi ...more
Dana Kraft
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a book that changed my perspective on environmental issues and has made me think a lot more about why I hold certain beliefs. I learned about history, science, anthropology, politics and so many other things. This is also the most balanced, thoughtful and fair presentation of environmental and climate change issues I've ever read. I'm sure my family is tired of hearing me talk about this book.

A few quotes I'll remember:
'He asked me if I had ever been to a place where most of the people
Aaron Arnold
Both of Mann's previous books, 1491 and 1493, described in great detail how various societies have interacted with local and global ecology, but never before has he offered such a clear framework for thinking about the reasons why humanity can't resist the urge to mold our environment to our activities and not the other way around, and drawn such clear lines between different human approaches to nature. This is a full-length expansion of "The State of the Species", his 2012 essay for Orion magaz ...more
Isabelle Duchaine
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really makes you think about the consequences and reactions of growth. I honestly think this is a must-read for anyone conflicted about how to tackle the challenges of the future. There are legitimate debates within the field of managing (and tackling) environmental degradation and climate change. Phenomenal and will probably be one of the books I will recommend the most!
Notes of a Curious Mind
The current world population of 7.6 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa. This will present fundamental problems. “There are about too many people for too little land” said a few years ago the BBC broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough. How to feed ten billion? How to provide ten billion with clean water? How to provide enough energy? And how to do a ...more
Kyle Muntz
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really nice look at issues of the environment and sustainability, very well written and weirdly evocative in its organization: the dueling ideology of "wizards and prophets" in their struggle to manipulate the elements of "earth, water, fire and air". On the other hand, despite its successes, I can't help but be a little disappointed, as this is the only book by Mann that hasn't drastically inverted the way I understand something. The issues are more familiar here, though he finds very interes ...more
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Wizard is Norman Borlaug, a son of Swedish immigrants to the mid-West, who declared that innovation was necessary for humans to survive a population explosion and the demands of the environment. The Prophet is William Vogt, a self taught but well recognized ornithologist, who warned without cuts and changes in behavior, the human species could die off like other species have. He wrote The Population Bomb. Borlaug won the Nobel Prize with his idea of inventions to help the Earth and people. C ...more
A scary timely look at the two main intellectual traditions of what we now call environmentalism. What Mann calls the "Prophet" strain, centered on William Vogt, is the whole "live lightly on the land, wear an extra sweater, nature is complex" rap that we all associate now with hippies although Vogt was a suit-wearing organization man in a lot of ways. The "Wizard" type, exemplified by Norman Borlaug, engineered the Green Revolution through some pretty damn strenuous plant breeding in Mexico and ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Where to even start?!? This book blew my mind!! I don't know if that is just a combination of my education and my job (both related to environmental resources)... I am sure that played a big part in it. I think anyone who works in this field should give this a read, and even if you aren't, I still think it could be eye-opening for you. I thought this book did an amazing job of trying to evaluate both world views fairly, finding faults with both, exploring the options, while leaving the final eva ...more
Sophia Rowe
May 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: informative
Today the world has about 7.6 billion inhabitants. Most demographers believe that by the year 2050, humanity will reach a population of about 10 billion. As the world population steadily increases each generation, questions related to justice become ever more important; such as, what do we owe to our future children and grandchildren? Do we have the same obligations to far-off descendants? Should we prioritize people alive right now over people that do not exist yet? A key component of these eth ...more
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For me, Charles Mann has another home run with 'The Wizard and the Profit', 5+ stars! Mann is also the author of (among other books) '1491' and '1493', extraordinary nonfiction/history works. He is on my short list of very fine historians/nonfiction authors.
In this book, Mann tells the story of the lives and works of two largely forgotten but extremely influential mid-twentieth century scientists. In 1948, William Vogt (the 'Phophet') wrote 'Road to Survival'. A hugely influential book, it fores
Laurent Franckx
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's really one of the fundamental questions facing humanity: in order to solve the scarcity of resources, should we search for technical fixes or should we adapt our living standards to the carrying capacity of our ecosystems?
Charles Mann's approach to this problem is highly original: he builds his book around the lives and work of two men who epitomize both worldviews: Norman Borlaug, the father of the "Green revolution" (the "wizard"), and William Vogt, who was one of the founding fathers of
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Superb history of the modern environmental controversy from the standpoint of progenitors. William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, ideological enemies, between them set the ground rules for today's animosity between two worldviews that, for all intents and purposes, should be working together. Unfortunately, personality and sense of mission can form deep barriers to reason and Mann gives us a historical biography or where and how this divide emerged---between Wizards, those who believe in scientific an ...more
Eduardo Sanchez
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is catchy and promises a contrast. It delivers.
The wizard and the prophet tries to explain the human struggle as a species ruling the world by using two contrasting views on opposite ends of a spectrum: live within the natural limits or expand such limits.
Mann uses the lives of two American scientists (no surprises there) to illustrate his point. Both men started shaping the modern discussion on two different approaches of resource management.
The book offers a simplified framework to
Sophie Pesek
This book covered a topic that's relevant to anyone who cares about the environment and studies the natural/engineering sciences. I must admit that I'm predisposed to be a techno-optimist who sees solutions to pressing ecological and developmental problems through better science and management. However, unlike the author, I've come to think of humans as more integrated within natural systems and less of an exception to irrefutable ecological rules. This book was a good reminder of the objective ...more
Bruno Sánchez-Andrade
What a fantastic book. We might think that the current dychotomy of tech as the solution to all, and tree hugging is new. This book not only proves its an old scar, but also brilliantly navigates both spaces.
Corina Murafa
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning depiction of the fundamental ideological clash on the interface btw humans and the planet. A must read for any person concerned with climate change and a fantastically documented less known piece of recent history.
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Are you a Wizard or a Prophet? Why? 2 15 May 24, 2019 09:42AM  

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Charles C. Mann is a correspondent for Science and The Atlantic Monthly, and has cowritten four previous books including Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species and The Second Creation . A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has won awards from the American Bar Association, the Margaret Sanger Foundation, the American Institute of Physics, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation ...more

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