Floods, Famines and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilisations

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9780712664783: Floods, Famines and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilisations
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In 1997 and early 1998, one of the most powerful El Ninos ever recorded disrupted weather patterns all over the world. Europe suffered through a record freeze as the American West was hit with massive floods and snowstorms; in the Western Pacific, meanwhile, some island nations literally went bone dry and had to have water flown in on transport planes.


In this dazzlingly original book, archaeologist Brian Fagan shows that such effects are not new: El Nino has been disrupting weather patterns on and off for at least 5,000 years, sometimes with catastrophic effects on civilizations. El Nino-driven droughts have brought on the collapse of dynasties in Egypt; El Nino monsoon failures have caused historic famines in India; and El Nino floods have destroyed whole civilizations in Peru and changed the course of European exploration. These events were not isolated but had lasting influence on the later course of these civilizations for centuries.

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Before 1997, the name "El Niño" was unknown to most ordinary folks. Meteorologists, oceanographers, commercial fishers, and weather buffs knew of this periodic climatic anomaly, but to the everyday person on the street, a few degrees' difference in the Pacific Ocean's temperature was irrelevant. Then one of the most powerful El Niños in recorded history caused bitter freezes in Europe, brutal snowstorms and floods in western North America, and deadly droughts throughout the South Pacific. People sat up and took notice as a relatively tiny change in oceanic temperature resulted in death and destruction in many parts of the globe.

Brian Fagan examines the social effects of El Niño and other powerful weather phenomena in Floods, Famines and Emperors. He gives plenty of examples of how cultures have adapted to stressful weather and the ways in which climatic alterations have changed the course of history. From droughts in ancient Egypt to monsoons in India, the far-reaching effects of meteorology's most cantankerous kid have deeply affected the way humans live in the world. Illustrated with useful maps and diagrams, Floods, Famines and Emperors is a clear, fascinating look at an aspect of climate studies--and of El Niño--mostly ignored by science. --Therese Littleton

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"Every so often, advances in scientific understanding require reconsideration of the historic record. Brian Fagan brings recent climatology to bear on history with admirable and entirely convincing skill. A landmark book." --William H. McNeill, author of Plagues and Peoples and The Global Condition: Conquerors, Catastrophes, and Community

"Clear, precise and thoroughly engaging...Drawing on an encyclopedic range of sources -- archaeology, geology, history and ethnography -- Fagan immerses the reader in a lively anecdotal portrait of the relationship between major climatic events and major historical events in both ancient and modern times. This is a must-read for laypersons, serious scholars and students alike." --Thomas D. Dillehay, University of Kentucky

"Brian Fagans engaging new book is a masterful synthesis of ocean, atmosphere and human dynamics. It chronicles the commanding interplay of climatic change and the creation and collapse of great civilizations. This is compelling reading for the global audience of a warming world." --Michael E. Moseley, author of The Incas and Their Ancestors

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