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Download The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis, by Ruth DeFries Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Ruth DeFries Narrator: Pam Ward Publisher: Highbridge Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Our species long lived on the edge of starvation. Now we produce enough food for all seven billion of us to eat nearly three thousand calories every day. This is such an astonishing thing in the history of life as to verge on the miraculous. The Big Ratchet is the story of how it happened, of the ratchets—the technologies and innovations, big and small—that propelled our species from hunters and gatherers on the savannas of Africa to shoppers in the aisles of the supermarket.

The big ratchet itself came in the twentieth century, when a range of technologies—from fossil fuels to scientific plant breeding to nitrogen fertilizers—combined to nearly quadruple our population in a century and to grow our food supply even faster. To some, these technologies are a sign of our greatness; to others, of our hubris.

MacArthur fellow and Columbia University professor Ruth DeFries argues that the debate is the wrong one to have. Limits do exist, but every limit that has confronted us we have surpassed. That cycle of crisis and growth is the story of our history; indeed, it is the essence of The Big Ratchet. Understanding it will reveal not just how we reached this point in our history but how we might survive it.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Engaging and optimistic.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “DeFries unpicks the historical patterns to parse the uneasy equation of people and food—our most powerful link with nature.”


  • “[The Big Ratchet] survey[s] the technological innovations that transformed humans from nomadic hunter-gatherers threatened with starvation into farmers and then into urban-dwelling specialists whose sustenance is usually produced far away by a relative few…DeFries sums up the cycle in the pithy catchphrase ‘ratchet, hatchet, pivot.’”

    Science News

  • “At its heart, The Big Ratchet is a food book, deserving a place on the shelf alongside work by the likes of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Marion Nestle that criticize our modern system of industrial agriculture.”

    Johns Hopkins Magazine

  • “DeFries places her faith in human creativity as a primary means to our survival, an appealing point of view for the hopeful but concerned reader.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “An admirable history of human ingenuity that does not claim it will overcome such looming crises as overpopulation and global warming.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Pam Ward’s delivery is always clear and well paced. She’s at home with the pronunciation of scientific terms and place names from around the world.”


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About the Author

Ruth DeFries is a Denning family professor of sustainable development and chair of the department of ecology, evolution, and environmental biology at Columbia University. She is a recipient of a 2007 MacArthur fellowship, and she lives in New York City.