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A Short History of Progress

by Ronald Wright

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1,1833016,917 (3.88)14
"A Short History of Progress is nothing less than a concise history of the world since Neanderthal times, elegantly written, brilliantly conceived, and stunningly clear in its warning to us now. Wright shows how human beings have a way of walking into "progress traps," beginning with the worldwide slaughter of big game in the Stone Age. The same pattern of overconsumption then took a new from, as many of the world's most creative civilizations - Mesopotamia, the Maya, the Roman Empire - fell victim to their own success."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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English (29)  Dutch (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Very interesting book. If you are interested in human society dynamics highly recommended. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
Over before I knew it. Suggested subtitle: We Are All Rapa Nui. ( )
  audient_void | Jan 6, 2024 |
What made ancient civilizations die? Rome? Mesopotamia? China? Egypt? The Maya? Even Easter Islanders? That's the central question of this book by Canadian author and thinker Ronald Wright. I understand he first introduced these themes as part of a famous Canadian lecture series.

He argues that ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, China, Maya, Incas, and others destroyed themselves, in large part, by using up and not replenishing their natural resources. Eventually, there were no fertile fields to farm, and thus no food to feed their populations. China and Egypt managed to endure longer than the others because they had the natural endowment of a more fertile floodplain that replenished the soil regularly, whereas Mesopotamia (Iraq) and others did not. There is a predictable cycle for this destruction, Wright explains, hoping that we can learn lessons for our own day and age before we follow their destructive patterns to the point of no return.

I picked this book up in a used library book sale at the St. George branch of the Washington County library a week ago and found his thesis interesting. I enjoyed his cross-disciplinary expertise, his pithy style, and his ability to explain and connect the major events in these civilizations' history in a way that gave me a bigger picture view of what was happening concurrently across the earth.

Towards the end of the book, he injects his modern-day political opinions into the conversation--which I did not appreciate. I'm trying to move away from that type of discourse because it is so partisan and narrow. Overall though, Wright gives a quick but erudite take on what we can learn from the great civilizations of the past before we follow their unfortunate, but predictable path. ( )
  Valparaiso45 | Jul 27, 2022 |
I have read many, but not all of the CBC Massey Lectures and this one for me is the best of them rivalled only by Richard Lewontin's Biology as Ideology. It is a thoughtful exposition on the impact that previous cultures have had on their environment leading to their own demise. Wright is clearly using these historical examples to shed light on our current situation and is saying "if those goes on..."

I like this rating system by ashleytylerjohn of LibraryThing (https://www.librarything.com/profile/ashleytylerjohn) that I have also adopted:
(Note: 5 stars = rare and amazing, 4 = quite good book, 3 = a decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful.) ( )
1 vote Neil_Luvs_Books | Oct 3, 2021 |
"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?"

Ronald Wright attempts to answer the last question in this eye-opening exposition. The first two questions are to some extent already answered; evolution splintered us from the ape family and thousands of years later we became homo-sapiens.

Wright explains that the ruins that were left behind from past civilizations tell a story. Just like the black box of a downed plane, we should study and learn why these empires fell. This is where the concept of "progress traps" comes in. These traps are pitfalls that early humans fell victim to which lead to their eventual downfall. One example is the perfecting of hunting which lead to the extinction of many animals. Over-cultivating the land is another. If we overkill a population of animal or we continually farm the land over and over until it becomes an arid wasteland (like ancient Sumer in present day Iraq) then we are doomed. No more meat to eat and no land to grow crops on.

Are we currently in a progress trap? Nuclear weapons are still a threat. Deforestation is still happening throughout our planet. Pollution via the burning of fossil fuels and other noxious gases continues to harm the biosphere. The earth will repair itself despite our repeated mistakes however the human race will be but a memory.

"There is still hope; though not for us" ( )
  ProfessorEX | Apr 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
...a brief, trenchant essay.
added by GYKM | editMontreal Gazette, Bryan Demchinsky (Jan 15, 2005)
 
What really needs some psychological excavation is Ronald Wright's mind, which carries a set of inflated, emotionally based moralistic assumptions derived from the structure of his primitive ignorance about markets and economics.
added by GYKM | editNational Post, Peter Foster (Dec 1, 2004)
 
...an elegant and learned discussion
added by GYKM | editMaclean's, Brian Bethune (Nov 22, 2004)
 
... the most important use of printed word and post-consumer recycled fibres I have seen since Jérôme Deshusses's Délivrez Prométhée, 25 years ago.... You feel you've read volumes, though, not just because of the density of Wright's thoughts, but due to the crushing weight of the burden they carry. In prose that is balefully evocative and irreducibly precise...
 
...remarkably gifted wordsmith whose talent makes turgid facts not only digestible, but also generates a hunger for more... A Short History of Progress is an important, well-crafted book, however, I can't promise that it will change your life.
added by GYKM | editSkeptic, Diane Barlee
 

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Epigraph
Long ago ...
No one tore the ground with ploughshares
or parcelled out the land
or swept the sea with dipping oars --
the shore was the world's end.
Clever human nature, victim of your inventions,
disastrously creative,
why cordon cities with towered walls?
Why arm for war?

-- Ovid, Amores, Book 3
Dedication
For my mother,
Shirley Phyllis Wright
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The French painter and writer Paul Gauguin -- by most accounts mad, bad, and dangerous to know -- suffered acutely from cosmological vertigo induced by the work of Darwin and other Victorian scientists.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"A Short History of Progress is nothing less than a concise history of the world since Neanderthal times, elegantly written, brilliantly conceived, and stunningly clear in its warning to us now. Wright shows how human beings have a way of walking into "progress traps," beginning with the worldwide slaughter of big game in the Stone Age. The same pattern of overconsumption then took a new from, as many of the world's most creative civilizations - Mesopotamia, the Maya, the Roman Empire - fell victim to their own success."--BOOK JACKET.

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In these podcasts Ronald Wright argues that our modern predicament is as old as civilization, a 10,000-year experiment we have participated in but seldom controlled. Only by understanding the patterns of triumph and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age, can we recognize the experiment's inherent dangers, and, with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome.
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