The Wizard and the Prophet - Charles C. Mann

Staff Pick

The two protagonists of Mann’s deeply researched and passionate study of climate change may not be household names, but they have shaped how we view the planet and humanity’s role here. The “wizard” of his title is Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), one of the key figures of the Green Revolution and the winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. In his view, people have never faced a problem they couldn’t solve with technology. Starvation, for instance, could be eradicated with the right combination of genetically modified seeds, artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. By contrast, William Vogt (1902-1968) believed that humanity is constrained by the natural limits of the planet. Since resources are finite, it’s irrational at best, suicidal at worst, to push for infinite economic development.  A “prophet,” Vogt, like John Muir before him and Bill McKibben after him, foresaw the end if we let our consumption and our population exceed Earth’s “carrying capacity,” a scenario he outlined in his 1948 Road to Survival. Mann gives a thorough profile of both Borlaug and Vogt. He explains the science behind the Green Revolution and outlines the mechanics of photosynthesis and the role of nitrogen in the soil. He reports from around the world on the triumphs and shortcomings of both the Green Revolution and the organic movement. He asks real, and urgent, questions about sustainability, ethics, and economics. Ultimately, neither wizards nor prophets have all the answers. While Mann’s books seems to chart a dichotomy, it’s telling that he used “and” in the title rather than “or.” We need both technological solutions and an environmental ethos. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, despite their contentious history. To save the planet we have to draw on the best ideas of both wizards and prophets.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World By Charles C. Mann Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307961693
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Knopf - January 23rd, 2018