Mann has given us a deeply researched narrative, a book that will change the way you see just about everything in the natural world and its relationship with humanity. It’s about an epic struggle and mostly, about our future.
It seems to be about two obscure characters of the 20th century, but it’s not. It’s about each of us and the tools we can choose to bring with us to the future. I found myself switching camps every few minutes.
Seth called it his book of the year. And while it is still early in 2022, I think it will end up being mine too.
Charles Mann deconstructs some of the most important issues of our time – including food, water, and climate – and contrasts two approaches to tackling these problems.
The first is the school of sustainability built on the work of William Vogt that asserts that we need to consume less and be more mindful of ecological balance.
And the second is the school of innovation built on the work of Norman Borlaug that focuses on innovation as the way out.
The book is incredible thanks to the way Charles Mann interweaves the story of these two men, the tussle between these schools of thought, and the complex challenges ahead of us on issues like food, water, and climate.
But more than ever, the book had me take away 2 things:
(1) There is no perfect strategy – there are only trade-offs. Both approaches bring trade-offs and there never has been or will be a perfect answer.
(2) When we deal with complex problems that don’t have clear answers, the middle path between the two approaches tends to be the way. That’s because taking the middle path helps us find the relative best of both approaches without necessarily attaching our identity to either.