A Short History of Progress

short-historyEach time history repeats itself, so it’s said, the price goes up. The twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human population, consumption, and technology, placing a colossal load on all natural systems, especially earth, air, and water—the very elements of life.

The most urgent questions of the twenty-first century are: where will this growth lead? can it be consolidated or sustained? and what kind of world is our present bequeathing to our future?

In A Short History of Progress –based on his acclaimed 2004 Massey Lectures — Ronald Wright argues that our modern predicament is as old as civilization, a 10,000-year experiment we have unleashed but seldom controlled. Only by understanding the patterns of triumph and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age can we recognize the experiment’s inherent dangers, and, with luck and wisdom, shape its outcome.


Libris Nonfiction Book of the Year Award, 2005
Book of the Year: Independent
Book of the Year: Globe and Mail
British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction finalist


“A brilliant analysis of everything humanity has done to ruin itself down the ages.”
Jan Morris, Books of the Year, Independent on Sunday

“A compelling work of distilled wisdom… Wright is a pungent phrase-maker and a penetrating thinker. His learning is historical, anthropological and cross-cultural.”
Alex Danchev, Times Literary Supplement

“Wise, timely, and brilliant…. I don’t care if you have never read and will never read any kind of book at all, but you must read this one. [Wright] achieves in a mere 132 pages what another author couldn’t manage in 1,300.”
Paul Williams Roberts,
Globe and Mail

“Provocative… Already a bestseller in Canada, Wright is now making his biggest mark since his debut novel (A Scientific Romance, 1997) attracted wide attention… illuminating and disturbing, and expansively documented.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this short, superb essay, Wright succeeds at impressing on his readers how fragile the remarkable experiment we call civilisation really is.”
Johann Hari, The Liberal

“Wright sifts the findings of archaeology and anthropology with thoughtful grace to build a potent argument.”
Steven Poole, Guardian

“Impressive…for the evidence Wright assembles from his authoritative grasp of history, and for the skill and clarity with which he imparts information. He makes history, ecology, anthropology and political science easy to read.”
Doug Esser, Associated Press

“Ronald Wright, one of this country’s intellectual treasures… takes his readers on a sweeping educational tour of history and every continent’s previous civilization… This excellent book should be required reading at the White House.”
Brownwyn Drainie, Quill & Quire

“An elegant and learned discussion of what the rise and fall of past civilizations predict about our own: nothing good.”

“Rarely have I read a book that is so gripping, so immediate and so important to our times. Jared Diamond will be jealous!”
Robyn Williams, ABC (Australia)

“A beautiful tract on the plight of humanity and how we always tend to spoil our nest and why we need to learn from that.”
Senator Bob Brown, Sydney Sun Herald

Publishers in English: Canongate (UK); Text (Australia); Anansi (Canada); Carroll & Graf (USA)
Translations: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Serbian, Turkish, Russian

Copyright © Ronald Wright 2019
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