Focuses on the transformation of the biosphere. In considering how the ecological history of the planet became so inexorably tied to socioeconomic history, McNeill describes environmental change as the result of social, political, economic, and intellectual patterns. He also presents cases in which people have countered this change through policy. For instance, he explains how the quest to irrigate cotton fields in Russia is transforming the Aral Sea into a salt pan the size of Ireland and how this hydrological change will affect Central Asia in years to come.
"One of those rare books that's both sweeping and specific, scholarly and readable [...] What makes the book stand out is its wealth of historical detail."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker
"Refreshingly unpolemical and at times even witty, McNeill's book brims with carefully sifted statistics and brilliant details."
– Washington Post
"This scientifically informed survey makes a useful resource for environmentalists, scholars, globalists, biologists, policy makers and concerned readers."
– Publishers Weekly
"A monumental, important, and timely work of interdisciplinary scholarship, written to be accessible to anyone interested in the relationship between our species and the planet that supports us."
– Chris Lavers , The Guardian