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The Long Summer – Brian Fagan *****

Subtitled “how climate changed civilization”, The Long Summer is a fascinating trip into the past and the impact of the most recent periods of ice and global warming on the development of human civilization. Unlike Stephen Mithen’s huge After the Ice, Brian Fagan does not make the mistake of producing a book so long that it feels as if you have lived through an ice age. Fagan’s book is short enough to be readable, and though it covers a similar period in time, does so without going into so much mind-numbing detail that the reader loses the will to go on.
Although there’s plenty of scientific and historical fact in here, Fagan keeps us interested with an excellent narrative approach, whether he’s describing the experience of being tossed on a small boat in the Bay of Biscay, or of seeing the remarkable wall paintings of the Niaux caves in southern France.
Like Jared Diamond’s How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, Fagan explores the fragility of civilization, but the context here is much better – we get a feeling for the relationship of the the cycles of history with the those of global climate, a much richer interaction than is suggested by simplistic eco-knee jerk reactions to the human impact on the planet.
The Long Summer spans archeology, climatology and the more scientific aspects of that demi-science sociology and does it very well.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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