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Revolutions, droughts, famines, invasions, wars, regicides, government collapses—the calamities of the mid-seventeenth century were unprecedented in both frequency and extent. The effects of what historians call the "General Crisis" extended from England to Japan, from the Russian Empire to sub-Saharan Africa. The Americas, too, did not escape the turbulence of the time.
In this meticulously researched volume, master historian Geoffrey Parker presents the firsthand testimony of men and women who saw and suffered from the sequence of political, economic, and social crises between 1618 to the late 1680s. Parker also deploys the scientific evidence of climate change during this period. His discoveries revise entirely our understanding of the General Crisis: changes in prevailing weather patterns, especially longer winters and cooler and wetter summers, disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests. This in turn brought hunger, malnutrition, and disease; and as material conditions worsened, wars, rebellions, and revolutions rocked the world.
Parker's demonstration of the link between climate change, war, and catastrophe 350 years ago stands as an extraordinary historical achievement. And the implications of his study are equally important: are we adequately prepared—or even preparing—for the catastrophes that climate change brings?
Historian and professor Parker (The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare) presents a history of the 17th century that, given its bulk, must surely be the last word on the subject. Focusing on climate-driven unrest around the world, Parker illustrates how events such as drought can drive disease, war, and social change. He cites hundreds of sources dating from that period to the present, including letters, journals, petitions, and published books and articles, though he provides little insight into the accuracy of various sources on specifics like weather data from the 1600s. With a mere 2-degree Celsius change causing significant changes in rice harvests, it is easy to see how the lessons of the past may be relevant today, though Parker reserves commentary on the modern climate for the epilogue. He traces connections between climate and population and war, factors further influencing attitudes toward education and consumption. Few stones are left unturned, from how successful years created agricultural specialists in Germany; to how weather events impacted the Ottoman tragedy; to the roles women played during times of unrest in Europe, India, and China. Parker provides a perceptive but overwhelmingly thorough review of this historical period.