Synopses & 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 population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups–Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug’s cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces–food, water, energy, climate change–grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author’s insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.
“The contrast is stark—technological wizardry or romantic prophecy as a lens to view the future path for the planet and humanity. Charles Mann provides a deeply corrugated, richly nuanced, and highly entertaining narrative to make sense of the most consequential decisions facing civilization. Read, think, and enjoy.” Ruth deFries, author of The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis
“Mann’s most spectacular accomplishment is to take no sides. Readers will thrill to the wizards’ astounding advances and believe the prophets’ gloomy forecasts, and they will also discover that technological miracles produce nasty side effects and that self-sacrifice, as prophets urge, has proven contrary to human nature. An insightful, highly significant account that makes no predictions but lays out the critical environmental problems already upon us.” Kirkus starred review
"Journalist Mann (1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created) clearly illustrates two opposing outlooks for dealing with major problems facing humankind, using two 20th-century scientists as exemplars. Mann straightforwardly states that this book does not provide “a blueprint for tomorrow.” Rather, it’s an account of difficulties facing humans and ways to approach them. William Vogt (1902–1968), who serves as Mann’s “prophet,” regarded human overconsumption as a potential source of humanity’s downfall and saw restraint as the only possible recourse. Mann’s “wizard” is Norman Borlaug (1914–2009), a leading figure in the “green revolution” of agricultural technology. For followers of Borlaug, science and technology hold the solutions to the problems that beset humankind. Mann juxtaposes these two lives and ideologies while briefly introducing a third viewpoint—that of biologist Lynn Margulis, who posited that humankind is doomed to extinction like any other “successful species.” In tracing the lives of Vogt and Borlaug, Mann describes how proponents of the two contrasting viewpoints that they epitomize suggest that humans should confront the challenges of providing food, clean water, and energy to an ever-growing population on a planet undergoing climate change. Neither ideology, he points out, is assured to bring humankind success. Without taking sides, Mann delivers a fine examination of two possible paths to a livable future. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Charles C. Mann, a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science, and Wired, has also written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post, as well as for the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His book 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year.
Charles C. Mann on PowellsBooks.Blog
A few years ago, the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson complained that science fiction writers, who used to imagine bold, exciting new futures, now write in a “generally darker, more skeptical and ambiguous tone.” Tomorrow, he said, used to be greeted with anticipation...