The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World

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The central question at the heart of The Wizard and the Prophet comes down to this: are you optimistic or pessimistic about humans’ prospect of survival in the face of demonstrable environmental destruction, resource depletion, and unchecked population growth? In his book, author Charles Mann manifests the distinct optimistic versus pessimistic views in the personages of Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, two men you may not have heard of but who, Mann argues, fundamentally shaped our modern perspective on the environment and technology. Borlaug, on the side of “the wizards,” believed technology could outpace planetary degradation and save us from our own hastening demise. Vogt, on the side of “the prophets,” believed that only by stopping our course of heedless consumption and expansion could we avert our own destruction.

In laying out the case for Borlaug’s as well as Vogt’s perspective, Mann finds a way to frame an enormous scientific, ethical, and philosophical question–the fate of humanity–in a way that’s both personal and manageable but also unfailingly intriguing. Learning about Borlaug and Vogt’s distinct lives and deeply personal investment in the urgency of their beliefs is fascinating, and it gives an approachable, individual scale to an argument that is otherwise difficult to wrangle down to size. Full disclosure, I’m pretty dug in on the “prophets'” side of the fence; but Mann traces Borlaug’s ideas over the course of his life and puts them in an empathetic perspective that is difficult to dismiss out of hand. Whatever your particular opinion about the coming fate of human life on Earth, The Wizard and the Prophet will show you why it matters in this beautifully written, meticulously researched, and deeply human book.

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Author Charles C. Mann
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 640 pages
Publisher Knopf
Publish Date 2018-Jan-23
ISBN 9780307961693 Buy this Book
Issue July 2018
Category Modern Literature


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