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BY: Joseph Bottum
The world is doomed—except when it's not. In fact, the world is roaring on toward brightness, getting better and better—except when it's not.
Words - Truth - Disaster - Truth - Things
In other words, we really do intuit one sure truth: We are careening toward disaster. And yet, we really do intuit another sure truth: Things are better than they've ever been. On one side we find the angry sibyls, howling of our fall into abyss unless we live small. On the other side we see the happy crystal-gazers, nattering of our rise to the heavens if only we reach for the stars.
The science writer and historian Charles C. Mann calls them prophets and wizards, and in his latest book, he looks at a pair of them from the 20th-century—a pair who symbolize the enduring modern tension between the convincing rightness of the Chicken Littles and the obvious correctness of the Pollyannas. His happy Pollyanna is Norman Borlaug, the Iowa farm boy who jumpstarted the Green Revolution that transformed agriculture across the globe. His sad Chicken Little is William Vogt, the author of the influential 1948 environmentalist tract The Road to Survival. Together, they form The Wizard and the Prophet of Mann's title—the figures on either edge of the curious chasm, progress and decline, that slashes through the middle of the modern worldview.
Excellence - Wizard - Prophet - Charles - Mann
The excellence of The Wizard and the Prophet shows most of all in Charles Mann's sense of detail and story. He wants us to like both these men, to appreciate their strange biographies, regardless of whether we feel personally drawn to one side or the other of the perennial debate that they represent. The weakness of The Wizard and the Prophet . . . well, interestingly, that derives from the same source. Mann wants us to like both these men, and despite his gift...
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