The Earth Transformed by Peter Frankopan [9/10]

Magisterial in scope and passionately cogent in expression, “The Earth Transformed: An Untold History” is a vast undertaking that should not succeed but does so with panache. Oxford University historian Peter Frankopan has dared to take on a revised history of humans on Earth viewed through the lens of the planet’s changing climate. What’s more, he bravely attempts to cover the entire globe, not just the main continents of Europe and Asia and (later) northern America. As an amateur historian tackling a daunting enough project myself, I gasped in awe at Frankopan’s absorption of historical data, including the transformative recent analyses permitted by new dating and genetic technologies. After a first chapter encapsulating the first four-and-a-half billion or so years of Earth’s existence, he introduces (over some seven million years) the species of us, then moves forward in chunks of history from 12,000 BC, hitting “the Roman Warm Period” straddling AD zero by Chapter 9. Ten more chapters reach the industrial age, four chapters find us in a chapter titled “The Sharpening of Anxieties (c. 1960-c. 1990), before wrapping up with three decades of the climate crisis. I was constantly flabbergasted by new knowledge: so many volcanoes plunging the planet into cooling; so many local cooling or warming spurts; such a clear early signal of manmade warming via fossil fuel burning! Throughout, the overwhelming flood of climate-rich data never, in fact, overwhelms, so clear is the author’s control and style, and he never over-eggs the climactic evidence, remaining quite the scrupulous evidence-based historian. There has never been a history like The Earth Transformed and I venture to suggest that in this intersection between climate, planet, and dominant species, there might never be another as impressive.

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