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The Wizard and the Prophet

Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World
Written by: Charles C. Mann
Narrated by: Bronson Pinchot
Length: 18 hrs and 56 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 47.04
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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

What the critics say

“Scrupulous, stimulating, and elegant.... A beautifully crafted book. Anyone wanting a readable, relentlessly intelligent narrative showing where our environmental ideas and anxieties in the present-day Anglophone world come from will find it here in abundance.” (Robert J. Mayhew, Times Literary Supplement

“Brilliant.... The author’s science journalism shines.” (William Easterly, The Wall Street Journal

“An elegantly written, devoted testimonial to the art of the possible.” (Jonathan Hahn, Sierra)  

What members say

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Great premise ... but then it meander off course

The premise of the book is very interesting ... how does two dueling visions to feed the world compare?
I wish the author would have stay focus on the topic and not wonder off all over the place. I found myself constantly asking "what does that have to do with the dueling visions"? Being off-course makes for a distracting read. But when the author was on topic, it was actually quite informative ... I did learn a few things about the topic.
The narration is very good, and it help compensate (a little bit) on the off-topic discussions.
In the end, great premise, some nuggets of good insight, but not enough to get it pass 2 stars overall

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  • BKATX
  • DFW, TX, United States
  • 2018-01-26

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Charles
  • Alliance, OH
  • 2018-02-04

balanced and deep

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

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • ProfGolf
  • 2018-04-04

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • nhbrewer
  • 2018-01-25

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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  • Joyce D Friedenberg
  • 2018-01-29

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • Boston, MA USA
  • 2019-03-19

Best history of climate science

this book was sorely needed. it is the clearest eyed view of how climate science has developed and why people perceive climate science the way that they do. as the author suggests, it is not his job to prescribe future steps, there are plenty of people suggesting those elsewhere. But his role is to help us see more clearly why certain currents run through the waters of climate science debate. as someone who follows these debates very closely, I found myself constantly illuminated by this conversation. also, for audiobook listeners, Pinchot does an amazing job creating life in what could be a fairly straightforward and flat delivery as given by somebody less-skilled.

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  • Bruce Schermerhorn
  • 2019-03-19

Absolutely compelling

Love the history and background of the thinking, theories and complexities. Gave me a far more expanded understanding of how difficult it will be to "Save the Planet".

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  • Karl
  • 2019-02-08

Great narration!

Great read, but also kudos to the quality of narration. thanks word word word word

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  • Randall Parker
  • Santa Barbara, CA USA
  • 2019-02-06

Excellent book on an important topic

Charles C. Mann writes well. He dug through a lot of history of the environmental movement and of the people who worked hard to bring about the green revolution in farming. His considerable story telling skills presents that history in an engaging, friendly, and sympathetic way.

But there are some notable omissions. Norman Borlaug, Mann's main protagonist for the view that technologists and scientists can solve the problems caused by population growth, actually warned in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that the green revolution he did so much to bring about did not eliminate the need for population growth control.

Read this book. But also read books on species extinction, global warming, population growth if you want to develop an understanding of the depth of the problems facing us.

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  • evan
  • 2019-02-02

Very Educational

This book is incredibly well researched. It presented a lot of nuance and details that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
The book is framed as a biography of 2 men, but it has minor biographies of a plethora of ecologists and scientists. It traces the 2 main schools of thought through hundreds of years of history to the present.
Bronson Pinchot’s performance was warm and his passion for the material was evident.
I highly recommend this audiobook.