You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus… Mark Twain


By deft slight of hand the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court saves himself from execution by threatening to blot out the Sun. As Twain describes it; I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?


With Yankee ingenuity he has simply used his knowledge of the date of a solar eclipse to not only save himself but to cut himself a nice large serving of the public wealth in the bargain. He has so much in common with the planet Gore crowd that it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. Keys book is an effort to give some historical necessity to planet Gore arguments but is no more magical than Sir Boss. There probably was a Krakatoa type eruption around 535 A.D. and it probably had some effects on global weather which in turn had effects of political stability in a world that lived off of just in time food rather than just in time logistics.


There have been and will be such events of greater and lesser consequences based on thousands of contributing factors. Our ability to predict such events is minescule at best and our ability to control them is even less. We have responsibilities based in everything as high as stewardship and as crass as seeking our own best advantage to not contaminate our world but they do not include being duped by Sir Boss, his heirs or assigns. Keys book is fun the same way a book questioning how would the Revolutionary War have been different if George Washington had an air force but it is just as speculative and no more enlightening.


Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world New York: Ballantine Pub., 2000 David Keys Human beings Effect of environment on History Hardcover. 1st American ed., later printing. xviii, 343 p.: ill., maps; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world — essentially the modern world as we know it today — began to emerge.

Archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically describes the global chain of events that he says began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, and then offers an explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago.

The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. Keys speculates that these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave.

Keys’s narrative circles the globe as he credits the eerie fallout with the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a selection of ancient literatures – in translation – and what passes for historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the “wasteland” that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known “Jewish empire” in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland.

In the book’s final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future.



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