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The Bookshelf: July 30, 2014

In this week's Bookshelf, our content partner Kirkus Reviews highlights The Big Ratchet.

The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis by Ruth DeFries

Trib+Water is joining with respected books authority Kirkus Reviews to bring you select reviews of books of note in the field of water studies. For more book reviews and recommendations, visit

THE BIG RATCHET: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis

by Ruth DeFries

MacArthur Fellow DeFries emphasizes that progress in human history depended mostly on success in feeding ourselves. For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers ate well. The largely grain diet consumed after the arrival of agriculture 10,000 years ago was unhealthy, but its vast increase in quantity produced a population explosion, cities and civilizations. … The Big Ratchet occurred during the second half of the 20th century when, thanks to pesticides, industrial farming, massive fertilizer use and genetic improvements, worldwide production of corn and rice nearly tripled and wheat more than doubled. Food is more abundant than ever, but other problems have emerged. “As long as civilization exists,” writes the author, “we will be grappling with how to hijack nature to feed ourselves.”

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