Charles C. Mann has written a historical account of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb as a part of Smithsonian magazine’s retrospective on the year 1968: “The Book That Incited a Worldwide Fear of Overpopulation”.
I learned a number of things from the article that I hadn’t known about the book’s genesis (as a political tract) and Ehrlich’s march to prominence as a public intellectual (aided by Johnny Carson).
Mann also discusses the broader impact of the book in the movement toward population control worldwide:
Such statements contributed to a wave of population alarm then sweeping the world. The International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council, the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund, the Hugh Moore-backed Association for Voluntary Sterilization and other organizations promoted and funded programs to reduce fertility in poor places. “The results were horrific,” says Betsy Hartmann, author of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs, a classic 1987 exposé of the anti-population crusade. Some population-control programs pressured women to use only certain officially mandated contraceptives. In Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan, health workers’ salaries were, in a system that invited abuse, dictated by the number of IUDs they inserted into women. In the Philippines, birth-control pills were literally pitched out of helicopters hovering over remote villages. Millions of people were sterilized, often coercively, sometimes illegally, frequently in unsafe conditions, in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Mann has written a book that covers a part of the history of doomsaying in the early 20th century by William Vogt, and the technical optimism of Norman Borlaug. The book, The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World, is released later this month.
I’m looking forward to it!