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Publisher's Summary

From the best-selling, award-winning author of 1491 and 1493 - an incisive portrait of the two little-known 20th-century scientists, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, whose diametrically opposed views shaped our ideas about the environment, laying the groundwork for how people in the 21st century will choose to live in tomorrow's world.

In 40 years, Earth's population will reach 10 billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups - Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, nonpolemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug's cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces - food, water, energy, climate change - grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author's insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.

©2018 Charles C. Mann (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A fascinating story of two forgotten men whose ideas changed our understanding of humanity's place in nature. The Wizard and the Prophet is an intellectual history of the clash between techno-optimists and environmentalists, but it's also the very personal story of two thinkers, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt. Mann offers a sympathetic, nuanced way to understand one of the fundamental debates of our time: How will 10 billion humans live sustainably on Earth, when our demands for energy and food are growing? This book showcases an important new kind of futurism, which looks to the past to understand how we'll survive. Never preachy nor dogmatic, Mann asks his readers to do the most difficult thing possible: choose a path to a better world, by consulting your own conscience." (Annalee Newitz, editor, Ars Technica )

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balanced and deep

much more than a biography, this volume presents some of the major issues of our times with thought provoking stories.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • BKATX
  • DFW, TX, United States
  • 01-26-18

Fantastic

Charles C. Mann delivers again, he is one of the best science writers going. Bronson Pinchot is fantastic as well (as always).

If you have an interest in ecology, agronomy, energy, poverty, overpopulation, climatology and global warming you will find this book interesting.

The author does a good job of not picking sides and highlights both the pros and cons of each argument.

Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating look at our future and our choices

What did you love best about The Wizard and the Prophet?

Charles Mann does an excellent job of pulling all the various complicated and apposing viewpoints on climate change together and making them understandable for the average guy, like me. His book pulls them together into one interconnected framework and put it on a calm blank canvas where the reader is allowed the room to draw their own conclusion about what might be our best path forward into the future. The story, full of real world scientists and politicians with their brilliant discovery's (and frequent missteps) was not only fascinating to listen to as it unfolded but also forced me to abandon my preconceived biases about conservation and our technical advancements and realize a much broader viewpoint. It was well worth the read and has me still thinking about it's concepts weeks later. Highly recommended!

What other book might you compare The Wizard and the Prophet to and why?

Cosmos. Its ability to make complex and impossible large and slow scientific issues accessible and understandable.I suspect this book will be one of those efforts that 30 years from now will still resonate and will see translations into dozens of languages as countries grapple with these escalating issues.

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Brilliant piece of work!

i enjoyed this book so much that i bought the hard copy to re-read and annotate. It will be a lifetime reference.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Excellent balance and details

Strongly enjoyed the history of the three camps approaching all the historical and current climate topics.

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Illuminating and revelatory

I’m a fan of Charles C Mann’s. He had me at 1491. This is at once a very personal and professional take on our future. Clearly concerned with where humanity might be heading, Mann seeks to understand more clearly the major problems facing both the young and the old in today’s societies. Aptly titled, this book walks the line of nonpartisanship (not out of any clear political motivation, but more out of a sense of curiosity and tenacious journalistic fact seeking) revealing the worlds woes through the eyes of two major scientists who have very different ideas about the direction we need to take to survive and thrive. Loved it.

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Worth it

I am a lay person when it comes to science, but I am fairly well read on environmental issues. I still learned a lot from this book. Some great history as well, covering a lot of territory the book goes in some unexpected directions.

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Good but meandering

The underlying debate between those who favor mastering nature and those who favor husbanding it is fundamental. But the book wonders between biographies about the two main characters and several different subplots to the main debate. As a result it feels longer and less focused than it could have been. A better fit for print than audio, even though the narrator is very good.

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  • Hal
  • San Antonio, TX, United States
  • 03-29-18

Charles C. Mann has another great book!!

and Bronson Pinchot narrates it beautifully. A powerful combination. Very seldom is such complexity distilled so clearly and succinctly. Thank you, Mr. Mann.

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A Deep Historical Scientific Narrative

More of a historical biography on the two scientists than I expected, but still a fantastic read. The author painstakingly constructs a intricate picture of the two men whose ideas shaped much of the foundation of the Green Revolution and environmental movement. He illustrates how the two schools of thought are more fundamental philosophical views than scientific arguments. The solutions borne out of those viewpoints ultimately reflect the ways different groups view the world.

It’s a fantastic primer on some of the massive problems facing civilization due to population growth and climate change. It definitely shook a couple of my more “prophetic” viewpoints with some fantastic arguments.

Prepare yourself for a long haul, and some deep dives into mundane details of Mexican maize, but if you can hold over through some of a drier parts it’s you’ll be glad you did. I especially enjoyed the authors approach to climate and energy. I did find myself yearning a bit more for a concrete solution to some of the issues he lays out, but to be fair he clearly states that’s not what this book is about. Well researched, well written, a fantastic addition to any science enthusiast’s shelf/device