Summary of The Big Ratchet

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The Big Ratchet book summary


8 Overall

9 Importance

8 Innovation

7 Style


In this fair, thorough look at how modern agriculture changed the world, Columbia University professor Ruth DeFries explains the “ratchet-pivot-hatchet” mechanisms behind the Green Revolution and the human ingenuity driving each step. Her descriptions prove simple enough for the uninitiated; her exhaustive notes and references should satisfy the pickiest academic. DeFries neither issues a call for returning to subsistence farming nor champions modern agriculture. She strikes a balance while explaining the pros and cons of chemical fertilizers and modern, selectively bred crops. The second chapter is sometimes tedious, but provides valuable background and resources. DeFries – for better or worse – falls short of suggesting paths for the future. getAbstract recommends her history and analysis to anyone concerned about food production, agriculture, global hunger and environmental issues.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What led to the ingenious Green Revolution,
  • How the rationale behind its “ratchet-pivot-hatchet” mechanisms developed and
  • Why humankind must be mindful of the “double-edged sword” of progress.

About the Author

Ruth DeFries, a professor of ecology, evolution and environmental biology at Columbia University in New York, studies how people transform the world around them.



Natural Cycles
Human beings leave their mark on every corner of the globe. People have made changes to the Earth to feed themselves by hunting, fishing, gathering and farming in increasingly efficient ways. Other species hunt, but people do it better. Human ingenuity allows people to “...

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