Books by Clive Ponting

Released: April 1, 1999

A bland and frustratingly abstract examination that emphasizes theoretical concepts, paying scant attention to specific people, places, and events. Ponting (Politics/Univ. of Wales; Armageddon: The Reality Behind the Distortions, Myths, Lies, and Illusions of World War II, 1995), argues that a few "core" states (e.g., the US, Britain, and Germany) have asserted their economic and military power to dominate the rest of the world's "periphery" and "semi-periphery" states. He views the 20th century as a continual, and largely predetermined, struggle between the few powerful "haves" and the majority of powerless "have-nots." After discussing the demise of colonialism, Ponting shifts to the contemporary reality of unregulated global corporations exploiting cheap labor and material resources around the globe. Ponting also cites problems of overpopulation, especially in Africa, and the related crisis of the world environment. While Ponting's analysis is difficult to deny, it's hardly groundbreaking. In discussing the global environment, for instance, he invokes the usual litany of cautionary tales: Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, Bhopal, Love Canal, and the Brazilian rainforest. What Ponting notably neglects to discuss is how the solutions to global environmental problems will inevitably conflict with basic concepts of individualism and nationalism. In discussing the growing levels of economic inequality among and within nations, Ponting exhausts the reader with a barrage of statistics. (Do we really need to know the rate of automobile ownership in Qatar?) At times, Ponting's conceptual approach results in bloodless, academic prose. Personalities are almost completely absent. That said, Ponting is outstanding when discussing the most important trend of the post—Cold War world: the destabilizing resurgence of nationalism. Now, more than ever, we exist in a world of regional alliances, confusing ethnic conflicts, and nationalist fervor. The Balkans, always a stew of ethnic and nationalist rivalries, has reemerged as "the tinderbox of Europe." Other than his highly relevant discussion of the "new" nationalism, Ponting's conceptual analysis offers little that's edifying. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1995

You'll never think of WW II as ``the good war'' again after reading Ponting's catalogue of catastrophic mistakes and horrific atrocities committed by political and military leaders on all sides. In his ninth book, British historian Ponting (Univ. of Swansea, Wales; A Green History of the World, 1992, etc.) offers his own interpretation of the war's big issues. Eschewing military history, he instead provides weighty, chapter-length examinations of nine ``common themes'' and discusses ``how the various belligerents (and neutrals) responded to the common problems.'' This analysis leaves out individual personalities and battles and zeroes in on broad struggles, such as the homefront, the neutral nations, technology, overall strategy, civilians, and the effects of occupation and liberation. Ponting marshals plenty of evidence (all of which, unfortunately for the student of history, is unfootnoted) to show that the WW II ``was probably the most brutal war fought in modern times.'' The brunt of that brutality, he points out more than once, came on the eastern front during the almost unimaginatively murderous German invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent Russian counterattack. Ponting makes a strong case that ``the overwhelming importance of material superiority'' of the Allies was the key to the defeat of both Germany and Japan. In addition, the author offers several against- the-grain arguments, including his contention that Hitler's fatal invasion of Russia was ``highly logical''; that technological advances were not as decisive in the war's outcome as commonly believed; that the overwhelming majority of people in German and Japanese occupied countries were neither collaborators nor resisters; that the importance of anti-German resistance has been ``overemphasized''; and that liberation was not exactly liberating for the people in many Eastern European and Asian countries. A refreshingly unromantic view of a war that all too often is remembered in sanitized form. Read full book review >
Released: April 10, 1992

A comprehensive assessment of humanity's assault on the environment across the centuries, by British historian Ponting (University College, Swansea). Examining the interaction between societies and their surroundings from the earliest hunter-gatherer groups on, Ponting describes the first great leap of civilization—the development of crops and agriculture—as the start of a systematic environmental transformation. As groups settled near their fields and as populations grew, the burden on the land increased, and at times the ecological pressure grew too great. Crop irrigation, the author says, led to increased salination and diminished yields, while a loss of forest cover brought erosion and the destruction of precious arable land. The Sumerian civilization in the Middle East and the Mayans of Central America, among others, fell victim to these limits to growth, with the collapse in some cases being precipitous. Other societies survived, however, to participate in the more recent great transition involving the use of fossil fuels for energy. With this step, Ponting says, environmental degradation increased exponentially through pollution at all stages of the industrialization process—and, in addition, the industrialized societies, by their exploitation of others less advanced, created the Third World, with its Pandora's Box of poverty, overpopulation, and other social ills that continue to worsen today. Ponting suggests no solutions, marking instead the devastating course of human progress and the ruins that serve as its milestones. Few colorful anecdotes, but an impressive accumulation of evidence culled from the annals of recorded history: a sobering view of a planet deeply in peril. (Maps and charts.) Read full book review >