CATASTROPHE by David Keys

CATASTROPHE

An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The political face of the world changed irrevocably in mid’sixth century a.d., says the archaeology correspondent of The

Independent, in a formidably argued treatise.

Armed with advice from dozens of academic consultants and visits to archaeology sites worldwide, Keys proposes that a

catastrophic volcanic eruption in a.d. 535 launched persistent and devastating climate change. Atmospheric dust obscured the sun,

leading to crop failures, drought, famine, and epidemic disease, followed by floods in many areas, more disease, more civic

disruption, major migrations and large- and small-scale warfare. It meant the end of storied old regimes—the Roman Empire and

Teotihuacan in Mexico, as well as more obscure chiefdoms among the peoples of central Asia and the Far East, Northern Europe

and the British Isles—indeed, no continent was untouched. This domino theory focuses first on Egypt, where the

drought-cum-flood scenario led to a population explosion of rodents, bringing flea-borne bubonic plague to devastate the

Mediterranean world and thence to the western British Isles. Keys catalogues the chronology of climate change and social

disruption area by out-of-the-way area, buttressing his case by diverse contemporary observations that "yellow dust rained down

like snow" (China) and "the sun gave forth its light without brightness like the moon during this whole year" (Rome). Still,

skeptical readers may look to other forces at work—political, circumstantial, even personal—especially since Keys admits that

conclusions about changes in the New World are more speculative. In the end, the evidence of a volcanic eruption more powerful

than Krakatoa, occurring in that same part of the world, is the linchpin of Keys's argument. Such an event could wreak major

mayhem in a much less populous world.

Let the scholars debate the evidence while the rest of us enjoy the encapsulated history of all those tribes ancestral to the

nation states we recognize today. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-345-40876-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2000