In This Review

The Little Ice Age: The Prelude to Global Warming, 1300-1850

The Little Ice Age: The Prelude to Global Warming, 1300-1850
By Brian Fagan
246 pp, Basic Books, 2001
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Current research on global climate change, drawn from tree rings and Greenland ice cores, provides much detailed information on weather and climate history. This new information can be correlated with historical accounts of major weather events and their influence on human conditions. This book exploits the new knowledge and provides an engaging history of western Europe, from the medieval warm period (900-1300) through the "little ice age" (1300-1850), when Europe became colder, wetter, and stormier. For people living near subsistence levels, as most Europeans did before 1800, abrupt changes in weather can mean the difference between prosperity and pauperhood -- or even between life and death -- especially if these changes last more than one season. A fascinating account of events both obscure and well known, including the French Revolution and the Irish potato famine, as seen through the lens of weather and its effect on harvests.