These two books make for sober reading. El Nino, the recurrent warming of the Pacific Ocean, has produced catastrophic and disparate effects: torrential rains, river flooding, landslides, severe droughts, and wildfires. Caviedes skillfully brings together scientific precision with a collage of information to look at past El Nino occurrences and their impact on such areas as politics, war, and economics. In explaining how these airflows export heat and humidity to different parts of the world, he argues that the resulting climatic changes have affected such turning points as Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Incas, the defeats of Napoleon and Hitler in Russia, and the sinking of the Titanic.
Davis' well-documented and ambitious book disentangles the fatal interaction between climate and the world economy to reinterpret the late nineteenth century. He focuses on the warm phase of El Ni-o's "southern oscillation," which is associated with drought in much of the tropics and northern China. Fusing environmental history with Marxist political economy, he examines a series of subsistence crises that hit countries such as India, China, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Environmental conditions were then worsened, Davis argues, by government policies, laissez faire ideology, and the imperialist ambitions of the European powers. All these factors, he concludes, are critical for understanding the emergence of the "Third World." Controversial, comprehensive, and compelling, this book is megahistory at its most fascinating -- a monument to times past, but hopefully not a predictor of future disasters.
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