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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,646 ratings  ·  280 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
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,…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,…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 pretty 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 ...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
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 J
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, ...more
Koen Kop
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it
3/5: Great review of two mainstream, competing environmental resource management theories, those involved in the culmination of these two theories, and a brief history of their interaction with our environment.
A Reader
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...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 ...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. ...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 ...more
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 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
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 ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent history and summary of the two views that have dominated our understanding of how we deal with the future. The Wizards believe we need to use our human ingenuity to develop ways to deal with resources and our impact on the environment. The Prophets believe we have a natural limit to what we can do and we need to develop methods to lessen our human footprint. Mann does a very good job of pointing to the positives and shortcomings of both sides He works very hard to be as unbiased as ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Marvelous chronicle & essay fusion of the role of *wizard* (Norman Borlaug bio, condensed) and *prophet* (William Vogt bio, condensed) from author of the wondrous works 1491 & 1493. This offering is just as stellar. Mann delivers account in a "thinking aloud" mode & confesses he deviates from one axis to another. And this delineation could easily apply to just about any facet of any field of study.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eco
Prophets warn that we'll run out and generally want to reduce consumption or strain on ecosystems. Wizards believe technological innovation will save the day, usually by producing more. Mann introduces the merits of both groups' attempt to create a world that can support 10 billion.

It's easy to miscast prophets and wizards as luddites and geniuses or pessimists and optimists. The culture of water management, such as drip irrigation, that the Israelis have produced to reduce water usage seems
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A history of the different approaches to climate change. Very interesting and informative. The author is not a Christian, but he presents the facts and seems unbiased. I really enjoyed this one.
Rick Elinson
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mann, cleverly and successfully, sets up a dichotomy to discuss the question of whether humans can deal with a population of 10 billion by 2050. He uses the thinking and careers of William Vogt, the prophet of the title, and Norman Borlaug, the wizard. Following Vogt, humans would have to accommodate themselves to the environment and to live within their ecological means. Following Borlaug, humans would have to find technological ways to increase food, energy, and water supplies.
I really
As a person who has worked with several leading environmental organizations, I was drawn to read about the dichotomy that is visible in almost every discussion on how to confront our greatest environmental challenges. And that dichotomy? Does our salvation lie down the path of technology (Wizards) or in living within existing limits (Prophets)?

Environmentalists pride themselves on approaching problems and solutions based on “the evidence”. As this book reveals, the two camps examined in this
Author Mann (wrote bestseller 1492) uses 2 men with similar ages and personalities (persistent/stubborn, smart, humble backgrounds) but polar opposites in solutions to world pop./hunger/food/sustainability challenges., to outline, discuss, and summarize the long and on-going 'battle' between those who believe man can tame/control/alter nature for mankind's benefit vs those who believe 1) it's morally wrong to destroy eco systems; 2) and in the long run we will destroy the world as we know it and ...more
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Are you a Wizard or a Prophet? Why? 2 11 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
“A prerequisite for a successful scientific career is an enthusiastic willingness to pore through the minutiae of subjects that 99.9 percent of Earth's population find screamingly dull.” 2 likes
“The conflict between these visions is not between good and evil, but between different ideas of the good life, between ethical orders that give priority to personal liberty and those that give priority to what might be called connection.” 1 likes
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