Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale University Press, 2013) is one of the most important history books of the last year. It has been widely heralded as an extraordinary scholarly achievement. Parker makes the case for a link between climate change and the worldwide catastrophe that occurred 350 years ago. We asked Parker to begin our forum with an account on the book’s long gestation. Then three prominent scholars, Kenneth Pomeranz, J.R. McNeill, and Jack Goldstone, comment on Global Crisis, followed by Parker’s rejoinder.
Jack Goldstone’s characteristically generous verdict on my various historical labors—Dayenu—also applies to the three comments above on Global Crisis: each of them “would have been enough” to bring a blush to my cheek. The unkind (or exceptionally well-informed) reader might still dismiss such approval, since all three commentators have directly inspired me. I have read every one of their books and articles, and we have engaged in fruitful exchanges both in person and by email. In addition, John McNeill offered much sensible advice when we met for the first time at a conference on Climate and History that he co-organized in Paris in September 2011, just as I started to finalize my typescript. A decade earlier, as I put together a book proposal for this project, I sent drafts to Jack Goldstone and received by return the feedback that every author craves: “Good, but you could make it much better if…” Throughout the prolonged writing process, Jack’s seminal work, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, served as both inspiration and benchmark: whenever I completed a chapter, I hastened back to Revolution and Rebellion to make sure Jack had not already made a similar argument (often finding that he had.) The only major difference in our explanations concerns the role of climate, to which I attribute greater importance than he had done; but there is less to this contrast than meets the eye. Whereas the demographic data on which both of us rely was already copious and conclusive by the time Jack published in 1991, no comparable corpus of compelling climate data then existed.
Ken Pomeranz also played an important part in shaping Global Crisis. His magnificent Great Divergence inspired me as I developed my arguments, and his 16-page, single-spaced critique of the 2007 version of my typescript, commissioned by Basic Books, proved invaluable when I started to revise. When, five years later, I realized that he and I disagreed somewhat over the chronology of the “Great Divergence” he had identified, I sent him the relevant chapters and asked his opinion. Yet again, I was blessed. Ken’s reply began “You bring together an enormous amount of material, both historical and scientific, in a way that gives us both powerful, self-contained chapters on particular topics and comparative/integrative statements that make the book more than the sum of its parts”—and then, like Jack, he offered priceless suggestions on how to strengthen my argument (all of which I followed.)1
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In the spirit of Dayenu, let me therefore be brief in this response to my generous commentators. I will leave unanswered their regrets concerning topics that I omitted because, as Goldstone recognized, it would require “perhaps hundreds more pages” to address them. I will also omit any possible modification of my argument in light of works published since my revised typescript went into production in May 2012 (this includes nine of the eleven publications helpfully cited in the notes to John McNeill’s article) because that too would require more space. Like McNeill, I respect Samuel Johnson’s verdict on John Milton’s most famous poem: “Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.”2
Let me therefore confine my response to an issue that appears in all three of the comments: whether Japan escaped the full...