________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 19 . . . . May 16, 2008


The Curse of Akkad: Climate Upheavals That Rocked Human History.

Peter Christie.
Toronto, ON: Annick, 2008.
144 pp., pbk. & hc., $11.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-118-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-119-8.

Subject Headings:
Climate and civilization-History-Juvenile literature.
Climactic changes-History-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

**½ /4


Everyone knows that climate is changing. We see it on the Internet, in books, and on TV. For the past century or more, our air and oceans have been getting warmer, and their temperatures are expected to rise even more.

What few people realize is that, although global warming is a special and severe case, climate change is not new. Sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, seesawing between warm and cold, wet and dry, climate has always been on the move.If human history were a (very long) school play, climate wouldn't be – as many of us imagine – a backdrop of painted scenery. It would be an actor in the show. It would be doing things that influence the plot of the play.

And it would be on stage a lot.

Climate, of course, never acts alone. The cast of actors that has helped transform human societies includes war, disease, technology, chance, and many others. But science is finding more evidence that climate has often been near center stage for major events.


Considering the increasing discussion about global warming, this nonfiction paperback is exceptionally timely. Christie takes the reader through the evolution of mankind from the first tool makers and homo erectus, to Neanderthal cave dwellers, and on through to homo sapiens, the ice ages and modern times. It documents the climatic upheavals that have had profound, and often lasting, impact on civilizations over the centuries.

     "The Curse of Akkad" is a reference to an ancient script that described a severe drought, one lasting perhaps centuries, which caused the fall and destruction of the long vanished city-kingdom of Akkad in present day northeastern Syria. Researchers suggest that other civilizations such as ancient Egypt and China, the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley, the North American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Mayans, and the Moche of Peru likely all disappeared due to severe droughts.

     Christie, a science writer and editor, details the interconnectedness between human history; climate changes such as increased rain and flooding or severe drought; and natural occurring events like volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. The author also links climate changes to migrations of populations, the onset and/or the outcomes of wars, changes in architecture and art, and the spread of disease such as the Black Death.

     The author cites a number of instances throughout history that illustrate the link between people and climate change. For example, the rising of the Mediterranean Sea, in about 5650 BCE, changed the Black Sea from fresh to saltwater and was probably responsible massive movements of populations. Those who escaped the sudden flood travelled far afield - some think as far as China. The ashes and gases of the volcanoes of the Pacific Rim have caused drastic climate changes. More recently cycles in ocean currents, such as El Nino, cause upward changes in the surface temperature of the sea thus impacting nearby coastal countries. He states, "There is growing evidence that El Nino and human calamity have often been companions." In addition, soon 250 million Africans will likely find themselves without adequate water, and the American southwest will become much drier in a few decades.

     Christie does not limit his discussion to the negative climate changes that impact historical events. He points out that volcanic explosions resulting in the release of gases and ashes have slowed global warming. In addition, between 800 and 1300, the Vikings in Greenland and the Polynesians of the South Pacific explored extensively while the medieval inhabitants of Europe created some of the greatest cathedrals in history due to the Medieval Warm Period.

     He also does not limit his discussion to the distant past but points out that climate changes are on-going. He gives more modern examples such as the California wildfires and rising sea levels due to the melting of glaciers and polar ice. Not only do such changes impact people, but they will affect many animals as well. Polar bears are but one example. Rising and warmer seas will cause the coral reefs to die. He states that experts predict that the atolls of Papua New Guinea will be under water within 15 years. Coastal cities around the world could be inundated in the not so distant future.

     Christie has focussed on climate and its affect on the world and its people. It is only in the last half dozen pages he addresses what needs to be done in order to decrease global warming. He states that we've increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by almost 1/3 in the last 200 years – since the Industrial Revolution. In fact, "Global warming is happening faster and more dramatically than any other climate change seen by human civilization." "It's because this time it's different. The climate is changing faster now than it has in the past 1,000 years. And, for the first time, people are behind it." He goes on to a few give simple actions that individuals can easily do to help decrease greenhouse gases: using less hot water, driving less, reducing and/or turning off lamps and computers when not in use, and setting thermostats lower.

     The text is augmented by maps, diagrams, and black and white photos and art work. In addition, a good selection of reference tools, such as Further Reading, A Selected Bibliography, and an extensive Index add to the usefulness of the book. However, the book lacks a strong visual appeal that would make it more enticing. The only colour in the book is derived from the use of orange to highlight subtitles and on a number of pages. On these, a particular topic is expanded upon. Such headings as Climate and Noah's Flood; Vanished Vikings; A Cathedral Climate; and Cold Climate, Cool Violins are discussed in more detail.


Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at www.heartofthestory.ca.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.