Libby's Reviews > The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850

The Little Ice Age by Brian M. Fagan
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's review
Jan 29, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, unforgettable, fun-with-the-middle-ages, climate

I like to think that I know a lot about history. Periodically, authors like Brian Fagan teach me how much more there is to know. This book is bursting with information about how the Medieval period I thought I understood,was formed and influenced by factors I didn't know or didn't understand. Let's start with style. Fagan is a dynamic writer. He moves his narrative along swiftly and surely like a championship skier on a difficult downhill. We get the thrills and not the spills. When I say thrills, I mean it. He makes history vivid and lively, taking us into the lives of ordinary people. He patiently reduces complex and difficult ideas into baby-step illustrations that non-scientists can understand, but he doesn't talk down to his readers. It takes real skill to write a book for the general reading public. We aren't specialists, but we don't want to have the author treat us like morons either. Fagan manages this feat with grace and wit.
Fagan tells us of a Europe that had benefited from several hundred years of clement weather, expanding agriculture and having more children as a result. By the late 1200's, the land had reached its carrying capacity. The continent was set for disaster and sadly it got one. The weather began to change. Later historians and Climatologists would call it the Little Ice Age, but the folk of the times called it floods, ice, famine and the wrath of God. Crops failed several times in the fist half of the 1300's and then in 1347, the hammer came down. A dreadful disease,(they called it a pest)spread pitilessly and surely through an already weakened populace. People watched in horror as their friends and families sickened and died so swiftly that they might be well at breakfast and dead before nightfall. To repeat a famous phrase, a third of the world died.
Changes in climate set us up for changes in the way we live in the world. What we eat, wear, do for a living, enjoy in our leisure time, all these depend on weather, and weather is climate made local and intimate. The world Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about was ancestral to the world we live in. Climate is vital and we ignore it at our peril. Brian Fagan has a lot to teach us and we NEED TO LISTEN!
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