Vast, learned and timely ... Never does he settle for an easy gloss. In fact, far more of Frankopan’s book is devoted to arguing that climate change is not a sufficient explanation for the course of great events than to pointing out where it unquestionably has been the prime mover in human history. That thematic insistence on complexity, along with abundant scientific terminology, does not always make this book a light read. So be it.
Rich and fascinating ... This is one of those books that aims to tell the whole story of everything from a cute new angle, so inevitably there are longueurs where the focus on climate is temporarily forgotten and a few pages of potted history or comparative religion take over ... There are hints that Frankopan might belong to the more misanthropic end of the green spectrum. He disapproves of cities, which indeed consume many resources and emit much waste, even though living in a city is more energy-efficient than not ... The Earth Transformed ends in a vision not so much pessimistic as quasi-apocalyptic.
The Earth Transformed ... is packed with riveting examples of how history has been affected by our environment ... While most other historians look at these events – the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the abuse of minorities – in terms of politics and economics, Frankopan sees them as ripples set in train by environmental fluctuations ... Frankopan’s view of the past carries a resonant message for our future.
Aptly for such an ambitious corrective project, his work is monumental, so much so that the 200 pages of endnotes, a product of his research, are not printed as part of the book but are, instead, accessible from its publishers’ website. While a shrewd remedy for unwieldiness, this does make reading awkward for the avid consumer ... Mr. Frankopan, a popular and charismatic professor of global history at Oxford University, sticks faithfully to his métier in The Earth Transformed.
Frankopan’s purpose in The Earth Transformed isn’t to explain how we find ourselves where we are climatically or to chronicle the steady increase of atmospheric carbon and our failure to curtail it. The book is doing something different. Frankopan presents an enormous panoply of cultures and societies affected by widely differing climatic pressures. He uses a wealth of new climate data and huge advances in climate modeling to understand 'the role that climate has played in shaping the history of the world,' to retell history as if it were something more than the interactions of humans on a weather-less planet.
Occasionally it feels a bit second-hand. A quotation (1898) from the illustrious US national park advocate John Muir, for example, is sourced from a book about hiking, nudism and nature conservation in Germany. On the whole, though, The Earth Transformed is a superb synthesis of the findings of a bevy of books and bewildering number of specialist articles ... The crash course Frankopan took to get up to speed with the latest scholarship, while hugely impressive, undercuts the purported untold-ness of environmental and climatic approaches to the past ... Frankopan has done the sterling, even heroic job of making readily available much of the bountiful harvest of research in climate and environmental history ... In an effort to explain how we arrived at our current quandary, Peter Frankopan begins and ends with (rather hackneyed) images of earthly paradise and paradise lost, referencing John Milton’s epic poem and the Book of Genesis.
A lively, absorbing account of not only how humans have potentially shaped but also been shaped by the climate ... Frankopan’s many and fascinating hypotheses mean that The Earth Transformed is a robust scholarly tome, as well as an engaging and sustaining read over its 650-plus pages ... Some of the writing is clumsy. He occasionally lacks nuance, and his arguments can sometimes be reductive to fit his claims.
The author negotiates the difficult matter of environmental determinism well, although he does adduce some suggestive stuff ... A deep, knowledgeable dive into environmental history that doesn’t offer much hope of a course correction.