Global Crisis War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century Geoffrey Parker

Publication date:
15 Aug 2014
Yale University Press
904 pages: 235 x 156mm
28 col illus + 55 figs
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Revolutions, droughts, famines, invasions, wars, regicides - the calamities of the mid-seventeenth century were not only unprecedented, they were agonisingly widespread. A global crisis extended from England to Japan, and from the Russian Empire to sub-Saharan Africa. North and South America, too, suffered turbulence. The distinguished historian Geoffrey Parker examines first-hand accounts of men and women throughout the world describing what they saw and suffered during a sequence of political, economic and social crises that stretched from 1618 to the 1680s. Parker also deploys scientific evidence concerning climate conditions of the period, and his use of 'natural' as well as 'human' archives transforms our understanding of the World Crisis. Changes in the prevailing weather patterns during the 1640s and 1650s - longer and harsher winters, and cooler and wetter summers - disrupted growing seasons, causing dearth, malnutrition, and disease, along with more deaths and fewer births. Some contemporaries estimated that one-third of the world died, and much of the surviving historical evidence supports their pessimism. Parker's demonstration of the link between climate change and worldwide catastrophe 350 years ago stands as an extraordinary historical achievement. And the contemporary implications of his study are equally important: are we at all prepared today for the catastrophes that climate change could bring tomorrow?

More about this title

Winner of the Society for Military History 2014 Distinguished Book Award
Awarded a 2014 British Academy Medal - Read More
Winner of the 2012 Heineken Foundation Prize for History, awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science
Named the History Book of 2013 by The Sunday Times.

Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History and an Associate of the Mershon Center at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on the social, political and military history of early modern Europe, and in 2012 the Royal Dutch Academy recognized these achievements by awarding him its biennial Heineken Foundation Prize for History, open to scholars in any field, and any period, from any country.

Parker has written or co-written thirty-nine books, including The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 1988), winner of the 'best book prize' from both the American Military Institute and the Society for the History of Technology; The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Yale University Press, 1998), which won the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize from the Society of Military History; and Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale University Press, 2013), which won the Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Prize and also one of the three medals awarded in 2014 by the British Academy for ‘a landmark academic achievement… which has transformed understanding of a particular subject’.

Before moving to Ohio State in 1997, Parker taught at Cambridge and St Andrews universities in Britain, at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and at Illinois and Yale Universities in the United States, teaching courses on the Reformation, European history and military history at both undergraduate and graduate levels. He has directed or co-directed over thirty Doctoral Dissertations to completion, as well as several undergraduate theses. In 2006 he won an OSU Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award.

He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and has four children. In 1987 he was diagnosed as having Multiple Sclerosis. His latest book is Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II(Yale University Press, 2014).

'One of the books I found most informative and most perversely enjoyable this year is Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. It deserves, and rewards, careful reading'. — Jane Smiley, Harper's

'Mr. Parker tells [the story] with verve. . . . [his] novel interpretation, emphasizing climate instead of individual agency, helps to explain socio-economic change and revolution in ways that future historians will inevitably have to take into account'. — Wall Street Journal

'The author sets out to examine a century in which weather patterns radically altered and political, social and economic crises seemed to engulf every part of the world. What relationship does a changing climate bear to global stability? There could scarcely be a more timely question to ask. Parker deploys a dazzling breadth of scholarship in answering it.' — Dan Jones, The Times

'In his monumental new book . . . Parker’s approach is systematic and painstaking . . . giv[ing] us a rich and emotionally intense sense of how it felt to live through chaotic times.' —Lisa Jardine, Financial Times

'Global Crisis is a magnum opus that will remain a touchstone in three areas for at least a generation: the history of the entire globe, the role of climate in history, and the identification of a major historical crisis in the seventeenth century . . . Wide-ranging, monumental works of history are rare; this is one of them.' — Theodore K. Rabb, Times Literary Supplement

'In this vast, superbly researched and utterly engrossing book, Parker shows how climate change pushed the world towards chaos . . . Parker’s book is not merely powerful and convincing, it is a monument to scholarly dedication.' — Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times

'Global Crisis is the production of a scholar. . .who has reflected on what he knows long enough to take on the double task of synthesis and breakthrough. . .Parker regales the reader with some wild and grim tales, interleaved with thoughtful reflections from those who lived through the crises. A more genial geode to disaster one couldn’t hope to find. We shall need more of these in the future.' — Timothy Brook, Literary Review

'[T]his monumental work by the distinguished historian Geoffrey Parker . . . is a formidable piece of scholarship that goes beyond it’s evident grand scale and ambition as a work of synthesis . . . This book is scholarly and readable, bursting with fully documented examples and authoritative coverage of a vast swathe of 17th-century history, written on a broad canvas but accessible and compelling. It represents a worthy distillation of several decades of Parker’s scholarship, and should provide food for thought for academic historians and interested readers alike.' — Penny Roberts, BBC History Magazine

'This is indeed a superb and harrowing book, well worth reading for the skill with which Parker summarises the history of pretty well the whole world . . . a fascinating contribution to history.' — Christopher Booker, The Spectator

'Its subject is huge, sprawling, all-encompassing and there is an almost reckless ambition about its purpose. It is a big book. It is also a brilliant one, but it requires attention, time and thought . . . This history is told with a sustained gusto by Parker but . . . it is the contemporary significance of the book that is truly breathtaking.' — Hugh MacDonald, Sunday Herald

'The clarity with which Parker, a British historian, has assembled a wealth of material makes this long book difficult to put down. The entire world of the 1660s seems only a heartbeat away.' — Patricia Anderson, The Australian

'A must read that shows how climate change 350 years ago can serve as a harbinger of the possible human consequences of today's rapidly changing climate. Essential. All levels/libraries.' — Choice

'My big book of the year has been Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis on the disastrous war-torn 17th century. It fills in gaps, gives different perspectives – not least on Scotland during the Civil War – and opens new areas of history to explore.' — Catriona Graham, The Guardian

'This is a colossal book, literally and metaphorically. Reading it reminded me of the exhilaration of first reading Braudel's Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Parker's book has the same combination of rich detail, global reach and a simple but powerful argument that can change how we see an entire period. Like Braudel's, Parker's writing is deft, vivid and rich enough to carry the reader along on the book's grand tour of the chilly, conflict-ridden world of the "General Crisis"'. — David Christian, Macquarie University (Sidney, Australia), Journal of Military History

'It is rare that one reads a history book so compelling and so stimulating that one forgets to eat, but that was my experience with Geoffrey Parker’s magnificent Global Crisis, a magisterial, near 900-page study of the world in the 17th century that centres on the relationship between climate and human conflict.' —Paul Lay, History Today