Nature's mutiny How the little Ice Age of the long seventeenth century transformed the West and shaped the present

Philipp Blom, 1970-

Book - 2019

"The hints of an impending environmental crisis appeared as early as the 1570s, as winters grew colder and crops diminished. By the turn of the seventeenth century, the temperature had plummeted so drastically that Mediterranean harbors were covered with ice, birds were dropping frozen out of the sky, and enterprising Londoners erected semipermanent frost fairs on a frozen Thames--with bustling kiosks, taverns, and even brothels. Chronicling the dramatic turmoil and the long-lasting consequences of this 'Little Ice Age,' best-selling historian Philipp Blom reveals how a new, radically altered Europe emerged out of environmental cataclysm. Showing how the drastic weather patterns decimated entire harvests across the European c...ontinent, [this book] describes how populations fled the starvation and civil unrest in the countryside to bourgeoning urban centers, where the emergence of early capitalistic markets sparked the transformation of European cities. The political and cultural ramifications were no less drastic. Moving from political to intellectual events and to the arts, Blom evokes the era's most exquisite paintings, like Hendrick Avercamp's surreal depiction of an idyllic community on the ice in Winter Landscape, as well as the revolutionary ideas of Enlightenment figures, who, like Montaigne in his Essais, imagined novel worldviews to cope with what seemed like nature's vicious scourge against humankind. Now, as we face a climate crisis of our own, Blom offers exigent ways of understanding this history of the 'Little Ice Age' in light of our own society's fraught relationship with the environment. 'There must be hope,' Blom concludes, but only if we are willing to learn from the past. Ultimately, [this book] offers an essential parable of how societies struggle to survive when violent environmental changes threaten the very fabric of their civilization."--Dust jacket.

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New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company [2019]
Main Author
Philipp Blom, 1970- (author)
Item Description
Originally published in German: Die Welt aus den Angeln (München : Carl Hanser Verlag, 2017).
Physical Description
xi, 332 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Prologue: Winter Landscape
  • Life without Money
  • The Great Experiment
  • "God Has Abandoned Us": Europe, 1570-1600
  • A Monk on the Run
  • God's Wind and Waves
  • Harsh Frosts and Burning Sun
  • A Time of Confusion and a Fiery Mountain
  • Pilgrims and Their Hunger
  • Truth and Wine
  • Wine in Vienna
  • The Lights Go Out
  • Witches and Spoiled Harvests
  • The Truth in the Stars
  • Doctor Faustus
  • Infinite Worlds
  • The Tower of Books
  • The Age of Iron
  • Hortus Botanicus
  • Revolutionary Places
  • The City Devours Its Children
  • The Magic of Green Cheese
  • The Great Transformation
  • A Picture of the World
  • Idle Talk and Fabrications
  • A Warning and a Call to Repent
  • Tears Too Plentiful to Count
  • The Revolution of the Barrel of a Musket
  • Sell More to Strangers
  • The State as Machine
  • A Profitable Trade
  • The Curse of Silver
  • Officer, Retired
  • The Subversive Republic of Letters
  • Germanus incredibilis
  • Virtue in the Drowning Cell
  • Leviathan
  • An Inventory of Morality
  • On Comets and Other Celestial Lights
  • The Madness of Crowds
  • The Antichrist
  • The Messiah and the Whore
  • The Fair on the Ice
  • The Face of Change
  • The Price of Change
  • Tapissier du roi
  • The Public Sphere and the Vices of Bees
  • The Floating Reverend
  • Epilogue: Supplement to The Fable of the Bees
  • Songbirds, Wood Lice, and Corals
  • Freedom and Luxury
  • Inherited Compromises
  • New Metaphors
  • The Theology of the Market
  • The Market and the Fortress
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

This engaging narrative links the Little Ice Age--that period of colder temperatures generally acknowledged as lasting from the late 16th century through the late 18th--with Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation, primarily the coeval rapid European evolution from feudalism to a market economy. While establishing broad causal relations (e.g., declining values of agricultural production caused by harsher winters rippled through an agrarian society), Blom focuses less on detailed arguments than on rich narratives of the experiences of the era, drawn from sources as varied as private diaries, artistic representations, literature, religion, philosophy, and political economics. His three broad sections unfold through artful storytelling, jumping across continents (with a home in Northern Europe but occasional glimpses of the rest of the world) to evoke changes that people lived through and commented on. Still, he sometimes cites hypotheses of more direct connections between climate and global transformation only to draw back, leaving readers dangling. More a vivid introduction than an authoritative environmental history, the author's catholic vision nonetheless should interest readers of popular texts and guide them onward if they share Blom's concerns with contemporary climate changes and their impacts. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates and general readers. --Gary Wray McDonogh, Bryn Mawr College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

From around 1570 to 1710, temperatures in the earth's Northern Hemisphere plunged by an average of about 2 degrees Celsius - roughly the same amount by which the planet's temperature is supposed to rise under the more catastrophic predictions of our warming futures. Two degrees colder meant a growing season shortened by three weeks. The apocalyptic changes that are coming - bigger storms, higher seas, longer heat waves, more insect-born disease - remain, for now, a task for the imagination. But the impact of those long-ago icy winters, frigid summers and torrential autumns requires no imagination: It's all recorded in contemporary sources. In "Nature's Mutiny," Philipp Biom, a German historian, treats this one well-documented period of climate change, the socalled Little Ice Age, as an experiment in what can happen to a society when its baseline conditions, all ultimately dependent upon the weather, are shaken. The premise of treating historical sources as a way of answering current questions is so good that Blom should have stuck to it. He is tempted, however, into making everything new in the 17th century a result of climate change, and this can only be true by so diluting the notion of causation as to render his claim meaningless - or just plain vulnerable. The initial crisis was food insecurity, much as it will be for us. Hunger hit the countrysides of Europe first. If peasants starved and then abandoned the country for the cities, the aristocrats, who lived off peasant production for both food and wealth, went down with them. People living on the land at least had direct access to whatever food there was; those in cities were dependent on rural surplus reaching them, and when it didn't, they rioted. They were also pushed into even more extreme measures: During the siege of Paris in 1595 the starving defenders of the city discussed breaking into a cemetery, removing the bones, grinding them into a fine flour and then using it to bake bread. Resource scarcity stoked violence big and small. This was a century at war with itself: urban revolt, civil war and international conflict, and sometimes all at the same time. The losers were the ordinary people who died in vast numbers or were forced into exile as loathed refugees, also in vast numbers. The big winner was religion: Those who trafficked in biblical warnings about the end of the world got more attention. The most radical, who saw God's flail in worsening weather, sometimes took matters into their own hands and abandoned Europe altogether to build on some distant shore their shining city on a hill. Few centuries in recent times were as dominated by religious upheaval as the long one that stretched from Luther to Louis XIV. Die-hard secularists take note. If there is a bright part of the story it's that crisis forced innovation - or at least removed a bias in favor of doing things the way they always had been done. What we call "research" often came to the rescue: "The most basic proposals for tackling the climate crisis came from gentlemen scholars we would today call botanists and agricultural experts." Why this occurred in Europe but not, say, in China is an important question that Blom, unfortunately, declines to entertain. The book is marred by errors of fact. (Montesquieu wrote in the 18th century, not the 17th; the Jewish Pale of Settlement was created in the late 18th century, not the 17th.) It too often reads like a series of potted histories. But the main thrust is well worth pondering: Climate impacts human history. T. S. Eliot warned in "Four Quartets" that though nature seemed like a "solved" problem, "in the sombre season or the sudden fury" it was a "reminder of what men choose to forget." Being lulled into forgetting nature is, at least, no longer our problem. peter N. miller is the dean of the Bard Graduate Center and the author of "Peiresc's Europe: Learning and Virtue in the Seventeenth Century."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 9, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Blom (A Wicked Company , 2010) provides an intriguing chronicle of the ""Little Ice Age"" that gripped Europe during the sixteenth-to-eighteenth centuries. As harbors and rivers froze, wildlife perished, and people suffered, socioeconomic, political, and religious changes were also under way. Drawing on in-depth, well-rounded research and a chronologically and thematically structured narrative, the book leads the reader through those drastic shifts, covering many aspects of life though never definitively determining whether the climate change of the era caused most of its social and cultural alterations or if these upheavals were caused by many factors, including the deep freeze. Blom attempts to provide correlations between this climate crisis and our own escalating struggle with its opposite, global warming, but his analogies fall flat. There is also a lack of introduction to the post-medieval period in which the Little Ice Age began. Still, this is a well-written, informative, and fresh look at a relevant and instructive climate disruption and will appeal to readers interested in European and environmental history as well as our own climate challenges.--Jennifer Johnson Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

An epic bout of global cooling sparked the rise of capitalism and rationality, according to this weakly argued environmental history. Journalist Blom (Fracture) probes Europe's response to a prolonged cooling period from 1570 to 1690, an era of harsh winters and chilly, damp summers that saw frequent crop failures, famines, and witch burnings as authorities sought supernatural scapegoats for bad harvests. (On the plus side, London held Frost Fairs on the frozen-over Thames, with ox roasts and bawdy entertainments.) The deep freeze prompted a new genre of winter landscape painting and Shakespeare's line "the winter of our discontent," Blom contends, along with profound economic changes: agricultural innovations; systems of market-oriented land management that raised farm productivity but dispossessed peasants; and a new international grain trade centered in Amsterdam, which became the open-minded, capitalistic nursery of the Enlightenment. He devotes much space to colorful profiles of free-thinking philosophers and scientists, from Giordano Bruno to Baruch Spinoza, who were ostracized, exiled, or executed for questioning religious dogma. Blom's arguments are intriguing but often tenuous, especially when he asserts a causative connection between the weather and particular ideas. While the arguments may not be airtight, this wide-ranging and affectionate portrait of 17th-century Europe has a poetic appeal. Photos. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Historian Blom (Fracture: Life and Culture in the West 1918-1938) examines not the science of climate change, but rather its effect on European culture. Having also worked as a journalist and translator, Blom uses his knowledge to document the hysteria surrounding climactic "acts of God" from the late 16th century through 1816, known as the "year without a summer," as well as the end of the Little Ice Age. The author successfully summarizes many of the societal upheavals of his chosen period, with attention paid to trade, agriculture, and especially religion. However, researchers may seek works that offer more scientific information. Similar books detailing this time period and climactic phenomenon include Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age and Dagomar Degroot's The Frigid Golden Age. VERDICT Appropriate for readers already fascinated with the history of Europe between 1570 and 1816 as well as enthusiasts of general historical survey works.-Esther Jackson, New York Botanical Garden © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A century of severe climate aberrations witnessed sweeping cultural change.From 1570 to the 1680s, the average global temperature fell by about 2 degrees Celsius, causing changes in ocean currents and the salinity of seawater, the growth of polar ice caps and glaciers, and extreme weather events, such as storms, torrential rain, summer droughts, and relentless frosts. Drawing on rich sources, including diaries, letters, account ledgers, paintings, and religious sermons as well as data gleaned by climate historians and scientists, journalist and translator Blom (Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938, 2015, etc.) creates a vivid picture of the European landscape during the Little Ice Age and of social, political, and cultural changes that may have been accelerated by climate change. During this period, Europe saw "a move from feudal to capitalist societies, from the fortress to the market"; scientific experimentation and empirical observation ushered in the Enlightenment; an urban middle class grew; and the medieval concept of the cyclical model of economic life was replaced by the idea of "continuing economic growth based on exploitation." At first, people explained the unremitting cold as God's punishment for human wickedness: "Every earthquake, every volcanic eruption, and every storm was interpreted as an expression of divine will," and weather sermons "became a minor literary genre of their own." When hail, cold, and drought caused food shortages and high prices, suspicions about witchcraft "grew to monstrous proportions." By 1600, one small Westfalian farming town burned 272 individuals as witches. Blom acknowledges that "religious tensions certainly played a role, but the correlation among extreme weather events, ruined harvests, and waves of witch trials asserts itself most forcefully." Although he establishes convincingly that Europe "found new metaphors for thinking about itself" during the 17th century, the author is cautious about positing severe weather as a single cause of major cultural changes. Blom's epilogue addresses contemporary global warming, which, unlike the Little Ice Age, will not spontaneously rectify itself; caused by humans, it requires dramatic, clearsighted human intervention.An absorbing and revealing portrait of profound natural disaster. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.