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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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  525 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
A study of world civilizations, from Sumeria to Ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire of pre-Columbian North America and tiny Easter Island, that argues that over and over again, human beings have built societies that have grown and prospered by exploiting the Earth's resources, only to expand to the point where those resources could no longer sustain the societies' population ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 1st 1993 by Penguin (first published 1991)
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Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Regan Norris
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, science
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
Sep 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, food
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.
Richard Reese
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A New Green History of the World (2007) is the new and improved version of A Green History of the World (1991), which was translated into 13 languages. British historian Clive Ponting did a fantastic amount of research, and then refined it into a very readable, mind-altering 400-page book (a silver bullet cure for folks suffering from denial). It spans the two million year saga of our hominid ancestors, devoting most attention to the last 12,000 years, the era of thunder footprints.

Ponting provi
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I will never forget the lessons of Easter Island as described in this book. The history of Easter Island is not one of lost civilisations and esoteric knowledge. Rather it is a striking example of the dependence of human societies on their environment and of the consequences of irreversibly damaging that environment. It is the story of a people who, starting from an extremely limited resource base, constructed one of the most advanced societies in the world for the technology they had available. ...more
Kent Curtis
Jun 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of human history on earth from the perspective of resources and resource exhaustion. Ponting's engaging and really accessible book argues that humans tend to overreach when they develop successful systems for exploiting nature to their benefit and they tend to collapse. He identifies several instances in human history and then posits that the current practices are putting us in real danger.
Mimi Somsanith
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: good-to-browse
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.
May 15, 2011 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.
Feb 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
Sep 27, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
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.
Kevin Belanger
Nov 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, concise, and (at times) sobering. This book does a great job of discussing human history through the lens of basic variables like food, energy, environment, and natural resources. High school history textbooks should focus on this information more than the characters involved in the growth of western civilization.
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Oma mahukas teoses annab Clive Ponting sisuliselt ülevaate kogu inimkonna ajaloost. Kuid see ajalugu on kirjutatud keskkonna vaatevinklist ja keskendub sellele, kuidas on läbi ajaloo kulgenud inimese side loodusega. Mingi õnneliku juhuse läbi sattus täpselt seesama teema ka riigieksamisse, seega parim aeg selle lugemiseks sai vist just läbi, aga parem ikka hilja kui mitte kunagi.

Raamatu sõnum on tegelikult väga lihtne ja sünge. Planeet on teel hävingu poole olnud sisuliselt sellest ajast saati k
Jul 26, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NO-ONE.
I had a great deal of trouble finishing this book. It was just plain tedious.

This book could have been interesting and so much better, but I found it boring and outdated. I didn't learn much new "stuff", which is the whole point of reading books like this.

The first third of the book is incredibly boring and tedious (I put the book down to read 5 other books before picking it up again and forcing myself to finish it). The rest gets a bit better, but not much.

The author selects the most common, we
Mar 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-nat
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
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lisa Knodt
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Ponting's focus is interesting because it highlights the variety of ways in which human activity had an impact on the environment and how different societies managed to organize sustainable ressource extraction with different degrees of success. It would however be a much more enjoyable read if the author had chosen to leave out some repetitive examples such as "between 17XX and 18XX the population of species x on the island of y declined from 678.000 to only 13.00".
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.

Sep 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Mike Stolfi
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
David Anusontarangkul
I thought the book was very educational about world history and what the effects of society development had on the planet. It was interesting to see how humans managed to solve environmental problems through innovations and regulations. However, the book was pessimistic about humans and it was depressing to read. It emphasized how people hurt the environment no matter how society evolves.
Mickey Somsanith
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Greg Bruce
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
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