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Catastrophe (A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World)

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It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultu It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world—essentially the modern world as we know it today—began to emerge. In this fascinating, groundbreaking, totally accessible book, archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically reconstructs the global chain of revolutions that began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, then offers a definitive explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago. The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. As Keys demonstrates with compelling originality and authoritative research, these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave. Keys's narrative circles the globe as he identifies the eerie fallout from the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a superb command of ancient literatures and historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the "wasteland" that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known "Jewish empire" in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland. In the book's final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future. Wide-ranging in its scholarship, written with flair and passion, filled with original insights, Catastrophe is a superb synthesis of history, science, and cultural interpretation. From the Hardcover edition.


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It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultu It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world—essentially the modern world as we know it today—began to emerge. In this fascinating, groundbreaking, totally accessible book, archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically reconstructs the global chain of revolutions that began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, then offers a definitive explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago. The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. As Keys demonstrates with compelling originality and authoritative research, these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave. Keys's narrative circles the globe as he identifies the eerie fallout from the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a superb command of ancient literatures and historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the "wasteland" that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known "Jewish empire" in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland. In the book's final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future. Wide-ranging in its scholarship, written with flair and passion, filled with original insights, Catastrophe is a superb synthesis of history, science, and cultural interpretation. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Catastrophe (A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I'm really conflicted about this book! So Keys's basic hypothesis is that there was some kind of catastrophic weather event circa CE 535/536 that had such dramatic geopolitical effects all over the world that it basically served as the starting point for the modern world. And Keys is super convincing. He ranges over every continent and major social group and runs down the evidence for the cataclysm of 535 and its environmental consequences and then he discusses the resulting political dominoes th I'm really conflicted about this book! So Keys's basic hypothesis is that there was some kind of catastrophic weather event circa CE 535/536 that had such dramatic geopolitical effects all over the world that it basically served as the starting point for the modern world. And Keys is super convincing. He ranges over every continent and major social group and runs down the evidence for the cataclysm of 535 and its environmental consequences and then he discusses the resulting political dominoes that fell to reorganise the planet's balance of power into what it would look like for the rest of the medieval period and into the modern day. He puts forth that an eruption by the proto-Krakatoa caldera was the cause of the weather event (rather than an asteroid or comet collision, for instance), and concludes by briefly discussing contemporary calderas like Yellowstone and the Campi Flegrei in Italy and the effects they would have on today's geopolitical environment if they were to erupt so cataclysmically in the near future and cause comparable climate change. There's certainly a wealth of evidence out there for his ideas, and his theory makes a lot of sense, and all of his beautiful flow charts are so explicit and well-organised that you can't HELP but buy into it. ...Unfortunately, that's precisely what makes me skeptical. Nothing works that neatly. The historical system that he slots together so nicely were far more complicated and there were so many actors in operation that I just don't think it's possible for such a sweeping statement to be conclusively true. I think Keys is so eager to prove his theory he does a lot of over-reaching in terms of the available evidence. When it comes to the written record, he plays fast and loose with what's there--for instance, he posits that the Javanese Book of Kings, which mentions an eruption of proto-Krakatoa in 416, was actually off by a good hundred years and is really referring to his eruption of 535. But many of the societies he discusses have yet to begin formally recording their histories by 535 and so he makes some big intuitive leaps by drawing out themes from oral tradition that support his claim. It's true that in British narrative tradition, King Arthur's death and the subsequence crumbling of political unity in Britain is typically dated to around 535-545. But he goes WAY too far by saying that the wasteland imagery popular in Arthurian narrative (a la the Fisher King) is evidence for the 535 event as preserved in folk memory--especially when he's pulling from later medieval texts recorded six or seven hundred years later! I'm comfortable saying that's too much of a stretch because I'm familiar with the Arthurian canon, but that's just one tiny corner of the argument he makes, which really makes me wonder what kind of tricks he's pulling in other areas. It's a good read. His narrative style is really engaging and it's eminently readable and I think his basic hypothesis is sound--I don't doubt that there was a major event in 535 (whether it was Krakatoa or no) and that it had some really devastating effects on world powers and that there were some very long-lasting geopolitical implications. But the story of how we ended up as a modern world is a whole lot messier than Keys would have you believe, and while I would like to be convinced, I remain skeptical. A little more rigour and discipline and I might buy his case, but alas... it's not happening.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tascha

    I love history; especially the ancient variety. Though I had originally bought this book for my dad, I recently borrowed it and started reading it on my own. It basically highlights the startling changes and upheaval that climate change had on the ancient world (circa 500 AD). Keys' history is spot on and he gives numerous references as well as further reading for his different subjects. He handles each major civilization in its own chapter, highlighting its trials and tribulations as its people I love history; especially the ancient variety. Though I had originally bought this book for my dad, I recently borrowed it and started reading it on my own. It basically highlights the startling changes and upheaval that climate change had on the ancient world (circa 500 AD). Keys' history is spot on and he gives numerous references as well as further reading for his different subjects. He handles each major civilization in its own chapter, highlighting its trials and tribulations as its people navigate through their changing world. Refreshingly, Keys writes extremely well making the pages almost fly by. The book becomes an almost eerie window as one begins to see the comparisons with events of over a thousand years ago to those of today. Quite good and HIGHLY recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This book is a hot mess. It's fine on the archaeology about the global climate disaster c. 535AD, and its maps and charts showing demographic changes in the medieval period are helpful. As a whirlwind tour of a historical period we don't study in grade school, it's an easy read. But I agree with reviewers who find Keys's theory of history simplistic. His romping through the birth and death of major empires with a handful of quotations from all over the historical record, attributing everything b This book is a hot mess. It's fine on the archaeology about the global climate disaster c. 535AD, and its maps and charts showing demographic changes in the medieval period are helpful. As a whirlwind tour of a historical period we don't study in grade school, it's an easy read. But I agree with reviewers who find Keys's theory of history simplistic. His romping through the birth and death of major empires with a handful of quotations from all over the historical record, attributing everything back to plague and famine c. 540, isn't all that useful. Keys's thinking borders on the unscientific. An Indonesian text from the 4th century may be misdated, he argues, to fit his theory of the cause of the catastrophe. But British historical sources dating the death of Arthur to 537AD must be exactly (!) right. Come on. I credit Keys for being out there years before *An Inconvenient Truth* talking about global climate change and the unforeseen consequences that can result from it. But this book just makes me wish I was reading Norman Cantor instead.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I first saw a program on PBS based on this book and I was interested in some of the statements enough to write down the name of the book & author. A couple or more years went by and I finally got around to reading the book. It is a very interesting take on the calamities that have shaped and "branched" our development as a race (meaning Homo Sapiens), our planet, and as cultural groups. The author presents a lot of information about a handful of specific events. Many are familiar to most people ( I first saw a program on PBS based on this book and I was interested in some of the statements enough to write down the name of the book & author. A couple or more years went by and I finally got around to reading the book. It is a very interesting take on the calamities that have shaped and "branched" our development as a race (meaning Homo Sapiens), our planet, and as cultural groups. The author presents a lot of information about a handful of specific events. Many are familiar to most people (e.g. the explosion of Krakatoa), others are more obscure. In all cases he uses historical records and those taken from geological *ex. lake bed deposits) and biological (ex. tree rings) sources to explain the effect of such past events. From these effects he details the linked development (or evolution) of humans. You may not agree with all of his suppositions, but I can guarantee that you will not be bored by him. The book also contains a series of "warnings" (if you will) about locations/situations that can lead to further cataclysms (with equally important effects on our survival). Note: Some of the events that the author used as examples have since become more widely known (and one might argue their impact on us raised to a more important level). One such is the massive volcanic explosion occurring around 535 AD. I've seen further investigation (by others) into some of these past events, which lends support to Keys' claims.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Quinton

    This is about a major climatic event (most likely a huge volcano) which occurred around 535AD. The book then explains how this helps cause major worldwide geo-political changes. It starts describing how this helped the rise of the bubonic plague, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, the Unification of China, the fall of the Mayas, etc. It's quite an interesting book... This is about a major climatic event (most likely a huge volcano) which occurred around 535AD. The book then explains how this helps cause major worldwide geo-political changes. It starts describing how this helped the rise of the bubonic plague, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, the Unification of China, the fall of the Mayas, etc. It's quite an interesting book...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    A book like this makes you realize that academia has really stomped all the joy out of big global theorizing. In the 19th century this guy would have been considered a genius and a polymath... but today, the book comes across more as an enjoyable but thinly-sourced magnificent obsession. One of the most helpful tricks I learned in graduate school was that, in the long run, the LEAST INTERESTING question you can ask about a work of history (or in this case historical archeology) is whether it is " A book like this makes you realize that academia has really stomped all the joy out of big global theorizing. In the 19th century this guy would have been considered a genius and a polymath... but today, the book comes across more as an enjoyable but thinly-sourced magnificent obsession. One of the most helpful tricks I learned in graduate school was that, in the long run, the LEAST INTERESTING question you can ask about a work of history (or in this case historical archeology) is whether it is "true". Was Robespierre actually Sea-Green and Incorruptible? Did Cleopatra's nose change the course of history? Was the fall of Rome caused by the love of military glory over civic virtue? Who really cares? In the end, history is writing and writing is art. The fact that all of these phrases have continued to be referenced by others, not just in other histories but in the visual arts and fiction and movies, shows that the great historians of the past have stamped their individual creative judgments on the contents of the dusty archives. So I try to ask why an author would WANT a particular thesis to be true and what it would mean for our understanding of the world if that thesis were true. And in this case, my takeaway was that no matter how many great civilizations humanity manages to hack out of the planet... nature always bats last, and sometimes with crushing force. That is something I worry about a lot as we live with the consequences of global warming, so I'm probably pretty responsive to the message here. As for the evidentiary problems... yeah, it's hard to deny them, especially in the written records. For a literally earthshattering event that had ramifications for at least two years, the literati don't seem to have taken that much heed. I didn't know anything about 80% of the civilizations mentioned in the book, so I rather enjoyed a whirlwind intro to the Kazars -- a whole Turkic tribe that basically converted to Judaism en masse! -- and the blood-soaked culture of Teotihuacán. I take it that tree-ring counting is the best line of evidence for the "extreme weather of 535" thesis, read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_weather_events_of_535%E2%80%93536. One big area for improvement is that the author totally fails to convey the effects of a volcanic eruption this gigantic. In fact the structure of the book tries to lay out the EFFECTS -- often many years after the actual explosion -- while leaving the CAUSE a "mystery" until the final chapters. Compare to a book like _Krakatoa_ which STARTS with the eruption's immediate global devastation. Obviously this eruption would not have been lucky enough to have a great historian on site -- unlike Pliny the Younger's classic account of the eruption of Vesuvius -- but when Krakatoa erupted the sound was heard and noted around the world, etc. I personally witnessed the eruption of Mt St Helens as a child and have some idea of what a big volcanic eruption looks like... but most people today have no context whatsoever for an eruption of the size proposed here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    This book had a lot of problems for me, especially for a history book, but it's still an important book to read. It has a very portentous message. That said, it's not for everybody. What it really seemed like to me is that the author took his graduate thesis which was around 100 pages (say 30k words) and went to get it published. Then his editor or publisher or whoever told him that it needed to be longer, so he took what was a really interesting book and made it twice as long by adding no actua This book had a lot of problems for me, especially for a history book, but it's still an important book to read. It has a very portentous message. That said, it's not for everybody. What it really seemed like to me is that the author took his graduate thesis which was around 100 pages (say 30k words) and went to get it published. Then his editor or publisher or whoever told him that it needed to be longer, so he took what was a really interesting book and made it twice as long by adding no actual content and just fluff. I almost feel like I'd have been better served reading a list of bullet points. The author takes a thesis and then works to prove it by basically saying the same thing for every area of the globe. 'Remember how I told you weird stuff happened in different places at the same time? Well here's another really drawn out example of that.' And I get that this is how a lot of books are written (thesis followed by supporting evidence), but it's usually not so blatant or so similar of evidentiary support. There is an appendix/epilogue that sums up the book and I feel you could pretty much read just that and learn all that you need to know. That was the biggest problem by far, but there are a handful of other things that brought the stars down for me too. They all deal with what I've already said so I won't go into them again (see how easy that was?) but consider yourself warned. All of this unpleasantness aside, the book is important for more people to read to we as a people can be ready when a similar disaster strikes, as it looks more and more like it will be coming soon. It's not just the obvious things that are affected when catastrophes strike. For this, I bumped up my rating from two to three stars. I hope this book gets more readers over the next few years, even if it is flawed.

  8. 4 out of 5

    D'Arcy

    Loved this book. I'm a history buff and have great respect for anyone willing to research the dark ages. It's dark for a reason. Due to the lack of reliable information from that era, you have to have an open mind to follow the narrative. Using everything from old documents, quotes, geology, poetry and mythology to tree ring and ice core analysis, the author composes a very satisfying picture of a calamitous 500's AD. It's not necessary to 'believe' in global catastrophe to enjoy this book. Well Loved this book. I'm a history buff and have great respect for anyone willing to research the dark ages. It's dark for a reason. Due to the lack of reliable information from that era, you have to have an open mind to follow the narrative. Using everything from old documents, quotes, geology, poetry and mythology to tree ring and ice core analysis, the author composes a very satisfying picture of a calamitous 500's AD. It's not necessary to 'believe' in global catastrophe to enjoy this book. Well researched and convincing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jo Thomas

    Basically just a note on books becoming out of date. Since this was written, the idea that a volcanic eruption was responsible for the 535-6 climate event has become the accepted cause - but the volcano in question is considered to be one in El Salvador rather than "Krakatoa". However, this does not prevent the way the (potential / probable) effects on history unfolded being an interesting read. And, yes, I was put on to this book by reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa! Basically just a note on books becoming out of date. Since this was written, the idea that a volcanic eruption was responsible for the 535-6 climate event has become the accepted cause - but the volcano in question is considered to be one in El Salvador rather than "Krakatoa". However, this does not prevent the way the (potential / probable) effects on history unfolded being an interesting read. And, yes, I was put on to this book by reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa!

  10. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    A well researched book that made me think why did I not learn much about this in my civilization classes? Oh yes, because the mid-first millennia truly was the Dark Ages. Interesting to consider that the global decline in civilization was due to a great climatic event. And sobering to consider how quickly everything falls apart if the weather changes for the worst.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean Graham

    The Sixth Century was an extremely unpleasant time to be alive! It is disconcerting and somewhat eerie to think that at the very time the beautiful, majestic Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was dedicated in 537 (it had been under construction since 532 after its predecessor was destroyed during the Nika riots) the entire world was being enshrouded in a cloud of volcanic dust which dimmed the sun, caused temperatures to plunge, and unleashed a series of unspeakable calamities upon the The Sixth Century was an extremely unpleasant time to be alive! It is disconcerting and somewhat eerie to think that at the very time the beautiful, majestic Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was dedicated in 537 (it had been under construction since 532 after its predecessor was destroyed during the Nika riots) the entire world was being enshrouded in a cloud of volcanic dust which dimmed the sun, caused temperatures to plunge, and unleashed a series of unspeakable calamities upon the hapless planet. Within five years of the dedication of the great church, Constantinople and much of the rest of the Byzantine Empire were devastated by an oft-to-be-repeated outbreak of bubonic plague (originating in East Africa) which depopulated the empire and changed its very destiny. In a manner reminiscent of James Burke’s “Connections” series (on PBS during the 1970’s and 1990’s, still available) David Keys chronicles the waves of plague, drought, famine, flood, migrations of ethnic groups, and the consequent political, economic and social turmoil which affected the destiny of peoples and nations and helped create the modern world. He traces the ultimate source of these disasters to an eruption of a supervolcano (“proto-Krakatoa”) in 535, the largest in the last 50,000 years, so huge that it split Sumatra-Java (thought originally to have been a single island) in twain and created the very Sunda Strait itself as the caldera collapsed and the sea rushed in. Keys presents a great deal of documentary evidence for Europe, China, Japan and Korea; and for areas in the Americas for which no written records are available, he relies on tree-ring growth, ice cores, and the study of architectural ruins and gravesites. He buttresses his case by comparing the reported effects of the 535 eruption to similar, known consequences of modern volcanic activity. Although a certain amount of speculation is of course inherent in a study of this sort, especially where no written records exist, and some of the connections are somewhat tenuous, the argument is a persuasive one. Subsequent research has raised the possibility of another supervolcano eruption (possibly in El Salvador) around 540 which exacerbated the effects of the 535 blast. Krakatoa, of course, exploded again in 1883, and even now another volcanic cone (“Anak Krakatau”) is smoldering in the Sunda Strait. The eruption of Tambora in 1815, further to the east on the island of Sumbawa, was responsible for the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816 and was the most comparable phenomenon in modern times to the 535 cataclysm. Keys’ book concludes with a rather sobering discussion about other dormant supervolcanoes (Long Valley, Yellowstone, the Bay of Naples) and the consequences should any of them awaken. Anyone reading this book will come away with a better appreciation of just how tenuous the hold of humankind upon the rim of the world is, and to what degree all the peoples of the earth are at the mercy of the forces of nature. **** review by Chuck Graham ****

  12. 4 out of 5

    Krlb

    There are two types of history books - one in which the author drowns you in detail until you reach the point of surrender and the second in which the author transports you back to an earlier time, where you feel what it was like to be a fly on the wall as important events were unfolding. Unfortunately, Catastrophe is Type 1. I've always been intrigued by books that describe events that occurred in little-discussed windows of time. There are a million books about the Civil War, but how many abou There are two types of history books - one in which the author drowns you in detail until you reach the point of surrender and the second in which the author transports you back to an earlier time, where you feel what it was like to be a fly on the wall as important events were unfolding. Unfortunately, Catastrophe is Type 1. I've always been intrigued by books that describe events that occurred in little-discussed windows of time. There are a million books about the Civil War, but how many about the U.S. in the 1830s? The Roman Empire has been analyzed to death, from its beginning to its fall, but how about the period immediately following, say 530-600 A.D.? This happens to be the timeframe for Catastrophe, an under-appreciated (at least according to the author) era when the entire world changed, due to a mysterious climatic event. To prove his thesis, Keys takes us on an around-the-world tour of the 500s, a journey that could have been interesting if it wasn't overladen with minutia. Keys is so convinced that his theory is correct that he finds corroboration in every nook and cranny, citing obscure characters whose place in history had heretofore been known only to their mothers, as proof that everything that's happened since 535 hinged on one (or more) cataclysmic event. By the time Keys got to Japan and South Korea I raised the white flag. The material was unrelatable - he might as well have been talking about civilizations on Mars. The most annoying part was that he kept his readers in "suspense" until the last few chapters, when he identified the likely reason behind the Catastrophe. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of worldwide calamities would have concluded that the catastrophe in question was caused by either a volcanic eruption or some extraterrestrial collision, so there was no point in trying to wait until the end of the book to reveal the surprise. Actually, once Keys started to discuss the possible causes and the climatic consequences that each would produce, he recaptured my interest and finished on a strong note. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that Catastrophe was a true, historical event that became more significant as the author tried to weave a story that placed the redirection of human history at its occurrence, something that felt like trying to fit 10 pounds of theory into a 5-pound bag. I'll grant the author some cause and effect, but there's a limit. Just as not everything in 2021 is traceable back to the 9/11 disaster, I'm sure that some of our murky past was caused by some king or emperor just having a bad day, not because of the Catastrophe.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    I was looking for a good "end of nutter-butter year 2020" read and thought reading about a Catastrophe so bigly it shaped the social and political world. This did it, I guess. First thing - the copy I had of this book was used and whoever had it before loved underlining and pointing and circling things. A lot. But not everything. Just most things. Either this person had an awkward memory or things were underlined at random. Like important family trees that lead to important people were ignored b I was looking for a good "end of nutter-butter year 2020" read and thought reading about a Catastrophe so bigly it shaped the social and political world. This did it, I guess. First thing - the copy I had of this book was used and whoever had it before loved underlining and pointing and circling things. A lot. But not everything. Just most things. Either this person had an awkward memory or things were underlined at random. Like important family trees that lead to important people were ignored but the specific items mentioned in a trade route - that had to be pointed out! Also every time the "event" was referenced it was pointed at with arrows or circled or often both. Just in case they forgot the title of the book? The best analogy I could come up with for this book was "Because of the Declaration of Independence in America Saddam Hussein was able to rise to power." So some of it was a but stretched. But mostly - I was okay with that! Because history. History is cool. It did leave me thinking about the lasting impact the pandemic will have on our planet. How has history been changed because of our Catastrophe? How will it impact 2021? Would Trump have won reelection if it wasn't for the pandemic? Will we now be on the path to getting the attention of the Vulcans in April of 2063? Come for the interesting event - stay for the fun historical lesson staring King Arthur, the Aztecs, and the Plague! HAPPY NEW YEAR Y'ALL!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Superb examination of an ecological catastrophe that happened in 525 or so, and how it affected civilizations world wide. Keys starts with the place that hit Europe shortly after, and follows the effect of the plague across west Asia and Europe and details its consequences, including the spread of Islam and the final fall of Rome. In the Americas and East Asia, it wasn't the plague, but as climate change. Keys marshals his facts well, drawing on a wide variety of sources, and it's a good picture Superb examination of an ecological catastrophe that happened in 525 or so, and how it affected civilizations world wide. Keys starts with the place that hit Europe shortly after, and follows the effect of the plague across west Asia and Europe and details its consequences, including the spread of Islam and the final fall of Rome. In the Americas and East Asia, it wasn't the plague, but as climate change. Keys marshals his facts well, drawing on a wide variety of sources, and it's a good picture of worldwide changes. Finally, he examines possible causes for the catastrophe, including asteroid and comet impacts, but settles on a huge volcano off the coast of Java. It's a detailed, but also gripping read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark Isaak

    In A.D. 535, a catastrophe caused climate-related famines and plagues around the world, events which reverberate through history. This book first covers the history--of Europe, the Far East, the Americas. The last third or so of the book suggests a cause: a huge volcanic eruption where Krakatoa is now. In both parts of the book, much of the story is speculation. The evidence given makes the speculation plausible, but I was left wanting more and higher quality evidence. Even for people not intere In A.D. 535, a catastrophe caused climate-related famines and plagues around the world, events which reverberate through history. This book first covers the history--of Europe, the Far East, the Americas. The last third or so of the book suggests a cause: a huge volcanic eruption where Krakatoa is now. In both parts of the book, much of the story is speculation. The evidence given makes the speculation plausible, but I was left wanting more and higher quality evidence. Even for people not interested in the 535 catastrophe, though, this book is a good introduction to 6th-century history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Victor Sonkin

    A very whimsical account of something that could have happened in mid-6th century AD and changed the course of the planet's civilization. Though absolutely without any proof (the Indonesian accounts are especially laughable), the work is remarkably remarked in most scientific accounts of the Byzantine plague and the likes, and apparently is not considered wild bizarre fiction. A very whimsical account of something that could have happened in mid-6th century AD and changed the course of the planet's civilization. Though absolutely without any proof (the Indonesian accounts are especially laughable), the work is remarkably remarked in most scientific accounts of the Byzantine plague and the likes, and apparently is not considered wild bizarre fiction.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    An entertaining read, fascinating to learn of lots of bits of history you don't really read about. As with all books like this , you need to remember that even with all the research (with references throughout), a lot of the dating is rough and assumptions may be being made, but the book does a good job of calling out when/where these are An entertaining read, fascinating to learn of lots of bits of history you don't really read about. As with all books like this , you need to remember that even with all the research (with references throughout), a lot of the dating is rough and assumptions may be being made, but the book does a good job of calling out when/where these are

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wyatt Montague

    A nice overview of a period of human history that is possibly the most overlooked, but the actual catastrophe part of the text is a tiny fraction of the book and some of the reasoning behind historical connections is suspect. Plus the section about what could happen were a repeat to occur in the future is should have been omitted since the author decided to just gloss over his views

  19. 4 out of 5

    Philippe

    Fascinating discussion on the effects of volcanic eruptions on the upper atmosphere, climactic effects and resulting agricultural failure. Brilliant, really. More recent ice core samples are confirming the event took place, and the historian's notes on the period are bang on. Fascinating discussion on the effects of volcanic eruptions on the upper atmosphere, climactic effects and resulting agricultural failure. Brilliant, really. More recent ice core samples are confirming the event took place, and the historian's notes on the period are bang on.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Hickman Walker

    Fascinating look at the way climate affects society on a global scale. I like the way it ties together different types of evidence across various cultures to build up a picture of similar events with the same underlying causes and how geography affected the resulting political and social changes.

  21. 4 out of 5

    E. Davidson

    A bit repetitive I think this analysis tries a bit too hard--and thus repetitively--to assert its thesis that the climate anomalies of the 6th century caused world-wide political and social disruptions.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cliff Davis

    This book is a rare combination of both meticulous research and easy readability. I really enjoyed it. Very plausable theory, with quite shocking consequences in world history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Very engaging and interesting read. He puts forth some good theories with decent evidence.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charity U

    Fascinating. Read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    F. S.

    Good, but as expected, this book is from 1999 and the main theories have been changed since then. This ends up debunking David's final chapters about what and where. Good, but as expected, this book is from 1999 and the main theories have been changed since then. This ends up debunking David's final chapters about what and where.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Barker

    Intriguing hypothesis but seems to stretch the evidence a bit far. Gets increasingly speculative towards the end.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bill Holmes

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catastrophe, but I took it with a large grain of salt. Keys makes a solid case that a disaster, possibly a huge volcanic eruption, happened sometime around 535 AD. The aftermath was worldwide drought, floods, famine, plague and the collapse of ancient civilizations around the world. The book seems to be on to something (unlike the silly Chariots of the Gods and its ilk), but there are reasons to be skeptical about the author's conclusions. First, Keys covers a great de I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catastrophe, but I took it with a large grain of salt. Keys makes a solid case that a disaster, possibly a huge volcanic eruption, happened sometime around 535 AD. The aftermath was worldwide drought, floods, famine, plague and the collapse of ancient civilizations around the world. The book seems to be on to something (unlike the silly Chariots of the Gods and its ilk), but there are reasons to be skeptical about the author's conclusions. First, Keys covers a great deal of ground for someone who is described on the book jacket as an "archaeology correspondent" for The Independent, a London daily paper. He makes a number of important judgments about ancient Chinese, Indonesian, American, British, European and Middle Eastern sources, as well as about geology, meteorology and even physics. His books suggests that he consulted specialists before drawing his conclusions, but I can't avoid the impression that some of his claims might be hotly disputed by experts in in the relevant field. In short, it's a little hard for the lay person to judge whether Keys has the qualifications needed to make the judgments upon which his arguments ultimately depend. Second, Keys has a disturbing tendency to use words like “undoubtedly” and “certainly” when describing the ancient world. I've read a great deal of history, and I have learned that nothing is ever really “certain” or “undoubted” especially if we're talking about events that happened 1500 years ago. Rather, such words often reflect an author's uncouncious effort to shore up a weak argument. Finally, Keys gets a little swept away by his thesis, constantly re-asserting that whatever happened in 535 caused (however indirectly) the birth of the modern world. Perhaps, but the same may be said of many other events that happened before and since. No need to get carried away--it's quite enough to argue that something exciting happened, that it affected a great many people and cultures, and that the world was changed in interesting (and sometimes frightening) ways. Having said all that, I enjoyed the book, which is why I gave it four stars. It covers the world history of the early “dark ages” in a crisp and fairly readable style. The author advances and does a good job of defending an interesting theory about why many civilizations seem to have collapsed, or at least taken a turn for the worse, in the sixth century AD. On the whole, this book reminds me of Charles Pellegrino's “Unearthing Atlantis” and its sequel “Return to Sodom and Gomorrah,” both of which invoke a “catastrophe” (specifically, the eruption of Thera/Santorini) to explain the Atlantis legend and the events described in the Old Testament. Catastrophe is not, however, in the same league as Ryan & Pitman's “Noah's Flood,” which relies on what appears to me to be very rigorous science to show that the Flood legend may have its origins in the collapse of a natural dam between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. You'll probably enjoy Catastrophe, but don't be surprised if the experts, for whatever they're worth, roll their eyes when they read and write about this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hans Guttmann

    Slow, dull, derivative, poorly written.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yael

    For months with no relief, starting in 535 AD, a weird, crepuscular haze robbed much of the Earth of its sunlight. As global weather patterns altered radically, crops failed in Asia and the Middle East. Bubonic plague, spreading like a firestorm out of Africa, wiped out whole counties in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse -- and pushed a few of them over the edge. The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East, lost half its territory For months with no relief, starting in 535 AD, a weird, crepuscular haze robbed much of the Earth of its sunlight. As global weather patterns altered radically, crops failed in Asia and the Middle East. Bubonic plague, spreading like a firestorm out of Africa, wiped out whole counties in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse -- and pushed a few of them over the edge. The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East, lost half its territory in the century following 535 AD. Meanwhile, as wave after wave of horse-riding "barbarians" swept down from the central steppes, forced from their ancestral homes by famine and plague, looking for new territory, invading the civilizations they found in their way and looting them to the ground, a new religion, Islam, spread through the Middle East. What caused this catastrophe, leading to the revolutions that convulsed the world for a century or more, and permanently changing its political and cultural geography in countless ways? The probable culprit was the eruption of a supervolcano in the strait between Sumatra and Java -- the very location of Krakatoa, which erupted so catastrophically in 1883, though with less devastating effects than the eruption of 535 AD because of relatively modern methods of transporting food, medicine, and other supplies to where they were most needed after the eruption of Krakatoa, coupled with the activities of charitable organizations that acted to meet the need. Today, a new volcano grows in the same place, Anak Krakatoa, or "Child of Krakatoa." The implications for the world's future are frightening.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Davies

    An excellent romp through a period of history I new little about, David Keys only intent is on illuminating his own theory of an event that had world wide ramifications and actually brought about the end of the Ancient World and the beginnings of the modern world (via the nasty Dark Ages!) A world history synchronising event! David goes for a bigger and original Krakotoa and he has me convinced. Often extrapolating widely from his central idea, all of world history is swiftly and with an amateurs An excellent romp through a period of history I new little about, David Keys only intent is on illuminating his own theory of an event that had world wide ramifications and actually brought about the end of the Ancient World and the beginnings of the modern world (via the nasty Dark Ages!) A world history synchronising event! David goes for a bigger and original Krakotoa and he has me convinced. Often extrapolating widely from his central idea, all of world history is swiftly and with an amateurs enthusiasm brought to bare on his argument, casting light onto the difficult and dark 6th Century AD, whilst not letting any of the academics detachment or professional rectitude impede on his vigorous argument. We just have to wait for the next one now!

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