Post #1: What books are you reading?

Since I cannot really answer that question, I thought I would share reviews of two books that I just finished. This is Post #1.

Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Changed History, 1300-1850 (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

I have always been interested in how our ancestors lived and also interested in how the geography influenced their lives. The author takes these  interests and ties them with climate change in the era of pre-emigration to the time of immigration. He then brings forward the climate change of the past 100 years and looks to the future.

Did you know that:

  • the average person in medieval Europe ate two kilos of bread a day and only had meat approximately twice a year;
  • This dependence on bread lead to several severe famines when the weather was not conducive to grain crop harvest;
  • the potato famine in Ireland was preceded by about 10 years of very good potato harvests resulting in an observable healthy Irish inhabitantThe volcanic explosion of Mount Tambora in Indonesia created the “year without summer” in 1816.  This event came at a particularly bad time, following some bad harvest years due to very cold and wet winters.  “The Great Famine” began in 1816 and continued for five years across Europe and beyond;
  • lack of roads and communications made the local famines (pre 1800) more severe because of their isolation from those areas with good harvests;
  • the great famine of the Ukraine in 1932-1933 resulted in a greater starvation and death of the population than did the Irish Famine;
  • Politics (wars, policies, traditions of landownership etc) could make famines worse, e.g. Ireland’s Famine, or more tolerable, e.g. Diversification of crops in the Low Countries, lack of feudal land ownership system in Holland.

I found this book particularly useful to identify reasons why emigration occurred. It is very European focused but there are occasional references to countries in other areas of the world.  The sections on the Vikings and settlements in Iceland, and Greenland are very good, as is the section on the Irish famine. Fagan also does a good job of explaining the impact of Atlantic ocean flows on weather in European countries.  There is a good bibliography for further reading.

if you do nothing else, check out the timelines and the graphs. These are particularly good.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  realized that my iPad is not the best tool for posting on my blog!  🙂


2 comments on “Post #1: What books are you reading?

  1. Grace Keir says:

    I am reading “Mayflower: a story of courage, community, and war” by Nathaniel Philbrick. Because my husband has ancestors that settled very early in Massachusetts and other states I have enjoyed learning how those early settlers lived and dealt with the native populations. As I research family history I become more and more interested in the history of the areas they came from in Europe and where the settled in America.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Thanks, Grace. I have no one in my lineage from that area or that early but I do have a couple of clients with a lineage from that area and era. I find reading history now so much more interesting as I “place” my ancestor and his/her “micro history” in the wider “macro history” context.

      Hope you had a great holiday!


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