Grand Transitions Book Summary - Grand Transitions Book explained in key points
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Grand Transitions summary

Vaclav Smil

How the Modern World Was Made

4.3 (240 ratings)
23 mins
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    Grand Transitions
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    The major transitions that have taken place across the world have had mixed results.

    The arc of a grand transition can be summed up in the story of a single person.

    A girl is born in rural China in 1945. Her family is desperately poor. But this girl is one of the lucky ones. She survives a devastating famine that kills her family, friends, and neighbors. She grows up, gets married, and has a son.

    The incredible pace of change in China – a result of economic reforms – opens up a world of opportunity for this woman and her family. In the 1990s, her adult son graduates from university, and then gets a job in the burgeoning market of electronics manufacturing. He makes a fortune and buys multiple properties. He starts a family of his own.

    In the twenty-first century, the man’s adult son drives a sports car and enjoys a life of luxury and international travel. The family has come a long way from the grandmother’s humble origins.

    Although this story is fictional, it could well be true. For many people in China, life changed beyond recognition in just two generations. It’s a story of progress. Or is it?

    The key message here is: The major transitions that have taken place across the world have had mixed results.

    China was transformed by interdependent transitions: population change, economic change, agricultural change. Similar transitions have happened across the world on different scales. For example, the improvements in quality of life that took place in twentieth-century China happened earlier for many Europeans, but over a longer period. In poorer parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the transition is still ongoing.

    Many of the changes in the world have been undeniably positive. Your chances of survival are infinitely higher than those of your ancestors. And just think of the astonishing advances in technology. Thanks to the internet, you have access to unlimited information – something that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

    But other recent changes have been far less benign. Aging populations in Japan and Europe pose economic challenges for the next generation. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a ticking time bomb. Then there’s the environment – a victim of human progress.

    Our existence has quite literally shaped the world, for better and worse. In the next blinks, we’ll look at these transformations in depth.

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    What is Grand Transitions about?

    Grand Transitions (2020) offers a sweeping overview of global transitions, from population growth to environmental changes. It examines the ways that we’ve shaped the world, for better or worse, and looks at the challenges facing humanity in the decades to come.

    Who should read Grand Transitions?

    • People who want to understand world history, and how we got where we are today
    • Environmentalists, and anyone interested in the state of the planet
    • Realists looking for a future forecast based on facts

    About the Author

    Vaclav Smil is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Manitoba, Canada. His interdisciplinary research encompasses many fields. He was once named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. Smil is the author of more than 40 books.

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