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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century (Viking), by William Rosen

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With minimal push from human hands, the climate in 1300s Europe changed drastically, and the results were devastating. For seven years the weather turned abnormally cold and wet, triggering floods and ruining crops. Famine resulted, worsened by soil leached of vitality through bad farming. The Third Horseman surveys the catastrophes that took the lives of one-eighth of Europe’s population, albeit the author seems more interested in chronicling the Braveheart-era wars between England and Scotland than anything else. Most of the book is devoted to those conflicts (which coincided with the climate shift). Fortunately, William Rosen is a good enough writer to hold interest and maintain the fraught relations between nature and politics as a running theme. He ends The Third Horseman with a stark observation: in some ways, global ecology is more precarious nowadays than it was in the 1300s.