Book Review: Ruth DeFries, The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis: A Biography of an Ingenious Species

Although history shows that ingenuity has brought humanity back from the brink of overshoot time and again, this history does not ensure the same will occur in the future. – Ruth DeFries

This is an excellent, well-written examination of the evolution of human beings from just another mammal high on the food chain, to the species that has wrought so many changes to the world it has become unrecognizable from its origins. Using a clever comparison of these fluctuations to a ratchet and a pivot, DeFries outlines the endless cycles of inventiveness humanity has exhibited over time in identifying solutions to problems that in turn create new problems to find solutions for. From well-known examples like the Irish Potato Famine and DDT to the decimation of the Rocky Mountain locust, this fascinating history takes readers on a journey from human beings as foragers to settlers and how we got to where we are today: mostly urban dwellers who have become largely detached from food production. A must read for anyone interested in food politics and knowing where, exactly, the food they eat comes from.

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