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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 (12 ratings)

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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
  • 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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Charles
  • 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.

5 of 5 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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • nicholas speer
  • 2019-05-30

Slow speech, great book

Wonderful eloquently written story and super educational. The non fiction writing of Charles C. Mann is only rivaled in my opinion by Bill Bryson. Has deeply changed my view on the world, I will, and have recommend this to everyone I know who will be interested by its subject matter. The performer of the audio was a little slow for my taste but was fine at 1.25 speed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Pete
  • 2019-05-17

Timely and important

I call this book timely and important because it both hits upon elements of today's global issues that need to be dealt with AND does so in a way that makes the issues understandable and clear. Mann does an excellent job of story telling in this book by giving a coherent background that sets up the issues, then proceeds to walk through those issues pointing out how these two different world views have shaped our societal responses to those issues. I wasn't sure about the narration at first, but Pinchot did an excellent job telling Mann's story with very few (read, almost no) pronunciation issues of the scientific terms (as a scientist I find myself unduly annoyed by those). I have recommended this book to fellow scientists and non-scientists alike; it is good enough that my recommendation is that anyone with a modicum of interest should check out this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

3 of 4 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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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-09-18

Amazing book and narrator

The book describes this duality and links it to climate change very beautifully. Also, loved listening to this narrator

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  • Nathanael
  • 2019-09-08

I'm a Wizard.

I highly recommend this book. Both from an environmental viewpoint but also for examples of contrasting ideologies.
I knew about Norman B. long before this was written. So, I'm a bias fan who gets confused on how others can't agree to that perspective.
I tried to give an open mind, but I kept siding with the Wizards.
There were a few points that I agreed with the Prophets, but only a few. Most of it seemed emotional and applied to particular cases of bad environment/land management. So, yes. I see how "do less" is better than "do the wrong thing".

More to the point, this book helped me see a history and background of the ideologies. I'm further convinced that there needs to be a removal of politics from science. And REAL science needs to be taught, NOT social justice relabeled as 'science'.

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  • Javier Morán
  • 2019-08-22

Chances are this one book was not the best reading recommendation to me.

Did not like the reading pace, and the story (interesting), seems to “run” SSSOOO slowly that I was not able to finish the listening.