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Exploring the life and legacies of an untimely prophet

Image of the cover of Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet

Press release issued: 24 April 2014

A major reassessment of the ideas of Thomas Robert Malthus by Professor Robert Mayhew of the School of Geographical Sciences will be published in May.

Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet is also an intellectual history of the origins of modern debates about demography, resources, and the environment.

Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population argued that societies, both human and animal, tend to overstep the limits of natural resources in "perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery".  After its publication in 1798, he found himself attacked on all sides: by Romantic poets, utopian thinkers, and the religious establishment.

In this book, Professor Mayhew explains the genesis of the Essay and Malthus’s preoccupation with birth and death rates.  He traces Malthus’s collision course with the Lake poets, his important revisions to the Essay, and the composition of his other great work, Principles of Political Economy.

Professor Mayhew suggests we see the author in his later writings as an environmental economist for his persistent concern with natural resources, land, and the conditions of their use.  He then considers Malthus’s many afterlives in the Victorian world and beyond.

Professor Mayhew said: "Today, as demography and climate change come together on the same environmental agenda, the Malthusian dilemma is making itself felt once again.  This book aims to open a new door onto Malthus’s arguments and their transmission to the present day, giving historical depth to our current planetary concerns."

Professor Mayhew will be reading extracts from the book, answering questions and signing copies at Foyles in Bristol on Thursday 1 May.

Malthus The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet by Robert J. Mayhew is published by Harvard University Press £18.

About Professor Robert J. Mayhew

Robert J. Mayhew is Professor of Historical Geography and Intellectual History at the University of Bristol.  His main areas of research interest are the history of geographical writing, travel writing and literary representations of landscapes in Britain from 1600 to 1900 (with particular focus on the work of Samuel Johnson), and environmental history and politics in Britain from 1600 to 1900.

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