“Paul Sabin’s The Bet is wonderfully conceived, sharply focused and entertainingly executed. In the story of a famous bet between two men of large egos, he manages to touch on the most basic problems we face in trying to come to terms with our current environmental crisis.”

Richard White, author of Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America

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“[A] gem of a book”

Publishers Weekly

“A joy to read; Sabin weaves a vivid historical narrative rich with classic characters … The Bet is both a cautionary tale and a call to order.”

Erle Ellis, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 17, 2014

“In telling the story of Ehrlich and Simon’s bet, Paul Sabin offers a compelling analysis of two very different, but equally important, ways of understanding the future of humans and the environment that still shape the world of environmental politics today.”

Jay Turner, author of The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964

“A refreshingly readable and consistently insightful portrait of the ferocious American politics of global population and resources since the 1960s – and of two implacable enemies who strangely resembled one another.”

J.R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the 20th-century World

“In his new book, The Bet, Paul Sabin has managed to write a work of serious historical scholarship about a vexing political issue — and make it read like a character-driven novel.”

David Leonhardt, New York Times

“The Bet provides an important contribution to canonical works in environmental history and environmental studies. It is a remarkable story of a critical moment in the environmental movement, and Sabin has told it expertly.”

Frederick R. Davis, author of The Man Who Saved Sea Turtles: Archie Carr and the Origins of Conservation Biology

“A revealing tale … used to explain the whole messy evolution of US environmental politics from the early 1970s, when Republican Richard Nixon was an environmental champion, to today, when Republican environmentalists are an endangered species.”

Jon Christensen, Nature, August 15, 2013

“An illuminating, judicious and engaging examination of the conflict between environmentalists and their critics over the past five decades.”

Glenn Altschuler, Tulsa World

“Carefully researched and engaging … Highly recommended.”

Choice, March 2014

“A brilliant idea for a book.  In The Bet, Paul Sabin has produced an absorbing narrative of how two people’s ‘clashing insights’ unleashed on the world polarised views of the environmental and resource threats we face in the 21st century.

Fred Pearce, New Scientist, 02 September 2013

“I found this book informative, charming, and highly readable.”

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution Blog, September 5, 2013

“Beautifully written, non-partisan, and filled with surprising insights, The Bet is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand modern environmental politics.”

Nancy Langston, author of Toxic Bodies: DES and the Lessons of History

“A wonderful new book … a fantastic introduction to population resource debates of the late-twentieth century.  It will be the required first reading on this topic in my future courses.”

Roger Pielke, Jr, Breakthrough Institute Blog, August 28, 2013

“Valuable … Mr. Sabin shares Mr. Ehrlich’s devotion to environmentalism.  Yet this affinity doesn’t prevent Mr. Sabin from being clear-eyed.”

Jonathan Last, Wall Street Journal

“For Europeans like me who find the partisan politics of environmental issues in the US puzzling, Paul Sabin’s book provides a handy catch-up course explaining how this came to be.” Sabin “gives a balanced view of this conflict of extreme views and explains very clearly how it influenced politics.”

Michael Gross, Chemistry and Industry, January 2014

“Provides surprising insights for anyone involved in addressing the world’s ‘wicked problems.’… I recommend The Bet to anyone wanting to understand the history of the divisive discussions we have today, especially the stalemate over climate change.”

Bill Gates, The Gates Notes

“Paul Sabin vividly and creatively explores the half century battle over environmental policy by telling the story of the clash—and famous “bet”—between Paul Ehrlich, the prophet of population doom, and Julian Simon, the advocate of technology and markets.”

Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Quest:  Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World and of The Prize

The Bet

Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future

Today’s raging partisan battles over climate policy and the Keystone XL pipeline are just the latest examples of a deeper debate about our future:  Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe, or will market forces and technological innovation yield greater prosperity?  In a gripping new history, Yale University professor Paul Sabin draws on an iconic story to examine the clash between environmentalists and their conservative critics—from the late 1960s to the present—and trace the origins of the political gulf that separates the two sides.

In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom.  Ehrlich, author of the landmark book The Population Bomb, predicted that rising populations would cause overconsumption, resource scarcity, and famine—with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Simon optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and our collective ingenuity. The Bet weaves the two men’s lives and ideas together with the era’s partisan political clashes over the environment and the role of government.

In a lively narrative leading from the dawning environmentalism of the 1960s through the pivotal presidential contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and on into the 1990s, Paul Sabin shows how the fight between Ehrlich and Simon—between environmental fears and free-market confidence—helped create today’s gaping and rancorous political divide.  Drawing insights from both sides, Sabin argues for using social values, rather than economic or biological absolutes, to guide society’s crucial choices relating to climate change, the planet’s health, and our own.

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