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Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide? In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities t Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide? In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society's apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana. Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?


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Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide? In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities t Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide? In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society's apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana. Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

30 review for Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    Jared Diamond looks at several societies that have collapsed as a result of misusing their natural resources, plus a couple (Tokugawa period Japan is the star example) that miraculously managed to pull back from the brink. At the end, he also talks about some present-day cases where we still don't know what will happen. The one my thoughts keep returning to is medieval Greenland, which Diamond discusses in a long and detailed chapter. Settled in the 11th century by Vikings originally from Norway Jared Diamond looks at several societies that have collapsed as a result of misusing their natural resources, plus a couple (Tokugawa period Japan is the star example) that miraculously managed to pull back from the brink. At the end, he also talks about some present-day cases where we still don't know what will happen. The one my thoughts keep returning to is medieval Greenland, which Diamond discusses in a long and detailed chapter. Settled in the 11th century by Vikings originally from Norway, the colonists brought with them their whole way of life, which was heavily organized around dairy farming. There is an eerie description of a huge barn with room for 80 head of cattle; the ruins can still be seen today. The colony survived for several hundred years, and was then wiped out to the last man by worsening weather and the decline in the European market for narwhale ivory. But here's the really odd thing. The colonists never ate fish, despite the fact that it formed the staple diet of the indigenous Greenland Eskimos. Diamond says that every single archaeologist who's studied the settlement starts off convinced that there must have been some kind of mistake. How is it possible that these hardy, intelligent people could have failed to adapt their diet in such an obvious way? But the evidence from middens is apparently rock-solid. For whatever reason, they would not make use of this plentiful natural resource, which could easily have saved them; they perished instead. Incomprehensible, isn't it? Needless to say, our own society's reluctance to invest more than a token amount of money in developing cheap solar power is different. The two cases are in no way comparable. ____________________________ Just back from Australia, where I had several illuminating discussions with various people about solar energy. Australia is almost certainly the country where it would work best. Population density is very low, and there is abundant sunlight. The technology already exists to build cheap solar power stations. So why don't they do it? Apparently, building the power stations in desert areas isn't economically viable unless national resources are diverted to connect them to the national grid. But the powerful coal lobby hates the idea, and has blocked it at every turn. Neither left-wing nor right-wing politicians dare oppose them. You often see individuals doing this kind of thing: even though a given course of action is evidently going to benefit them (leave their abusive partner, stop binge-drinking), they are unable to summon the willpower to quit. It's interesting and remarkable that whole societies exhibit the same behavior. ____________________________ As previously noted. Tony Abbott is really doing everything he can to consolidate his position as the new Dubya.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    Fascinating work by the same author who won a Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. This exhaustive study in Malthusian economics as applied to several societies in history that have failed, such as the Easter Islanders and Greenland Norse, details the thematic traits common to each example. His chapter on Easter Island made me think of Thor Heyerdahl's work there. Most notably is how deforestation and imprudent population control applies to modern societies in Fascinating work by the same author who won a Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. This exhaustive study in Malthusian economics as applied to several societies in history that have failed, such as the Easter Islanders and Greenland Norse, details the thematic traits common to each example. His chapter on Easter Island made me think of Thor Heyerdahl's work there. Most notably is how deforestation and imprudent population control applies to modern societies in trouble as well. I find myself thinking about this work frequently, his ideas resonate with our times, mirroring as they do, and as he shows us, with failed societies of the past. Haunting and thought provoking and a damn fine book. ** 2018 addendum - it is a testament to great literature that a reader recalls the work years later and this is a book about which I frequently think. When I think about this book, I think about the Greenland Norse and the Polynesians. Great book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    Terrifying how often the pattern of exploitation of nature and decline of cultures has repeated itself. The fitting additional book to Diamonds work "Guns Germs and Steel" offers past and present scenarios of various environmental conditions and the mastery or miserable failure of the peoples trying to master the challenge. Especially in isolated societies, where the socio-cultural aspect is much more emphasized by the absence of invaders or other disturbing factors, the processes leading to the Terrifying how often the pattern of exploitation of nature and decline of cultures has repeated itself. The fitting additional book to Diamonds work "Guns Germs and Steel" offers past and present scenarios of various environmental conditions and the mastery or miserable failure of the peoples trying to master the challenge. Especially in isolated societies, where the socio-cultural aspect is much more emphasized by the absence of invaders or other disturbing factors, the processes leading to the formation of today's ruins or prosperous cities are described. As a classic positive example, Iceland, which counters the desolation of the climate zone and infertility of barren landscapes with strong community feeling and intelligent farming, can be named. Other isolated island states, such as Easter Island and other ghost islands, have been caught in the throes of social degeneration and driven to self-destruction by meaningless, prestigious or religiously driven construction projects, civil wars, exploitation of natural resources to the collapse of the ecosystem, or a bit of this and that mixed up together. Often there was an old tradition of proven survival strategies on the failed island states, but their practice was mostly forgotten or ignored in the course of the delusion, resulting in the collapse of the social system and the extinction of the tribe. How the authors' theses could be applied to the history of the development of more significant, continental nations would be highly enjoyable. This would probably be far too far-reaching and hypothetical because of the added complexity, which is why Diamond didn´t mention it, but it would make a great, new research area. The factors that are taken into account, such as climate change, hostile neighbors, environmental destruction, breaking an alliance or loss of support from friendly neighbors and, as a decisive factor, the reaction of the population and ruling caste, already present a high potential for complexity. Therefore, it would no longer be concluded with scientific seriousness by introducing additional factors such as in the case of the Roman Empire or other fallen empires. It is noteworthy that the scheme of slow degeneration through creeping degradation of cultural as well as naturally given resources can strike both relatively primitive, almost Stone Age societies as unexpectedly as highly developed and militarily nearly unbeatable empires. Despite the admonishers of the respective time, fanaticism and megalomania became the leading motive and in hindsight apparent nonsensical and self-destructive mechanisms leaked into politics until it was accepted as usual and criticism was negated until the downfall. At this point, it makes sense to see the accordances with the present and to illustrate the classic repetition of the history using various examples. Thus, even after dozens of vivid and illustrative learning examples from the history of what one should avoid as a state, the same, actually, precisely recognizable mistakes are committed today. Whether it is negligent, irreversible environmental destruction, political destabilization until to the collapse of state and social order, including genocide and targeted destruction of infrastructure until relapse into archaic forms of government and theocracy, there is a wide range of patterns. Their use seems to be so desirable to humanity that repeated attempts can no longer be construed as just perseverance. But instead, as ignorance and incompetence of elites, to whom a brief reading of any historical atlas could give numerous examples of the futility of their present action. The big and anxious question after completing the book remains whether we, as a society, may have not jumped on the wrong train for far too long. One that not only directs individual islands, regions or states, as described in the book, but the entire planet and the civilization living on it, on a path into the abyss. A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real-life outside books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_D... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaps...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kenghis Khan

    The Pulitzer-prize winning "Guns, Germs and Steel" by this dude forever changed the way I look at history. And believe me, I am a history buff of sorts so this means a lot. Unfortunately, "Collapse" fails to measure up to that classic. The real problem with Collapse isn't the research that goes into the thesis, or even the soundness of the thesis itself (though there are some qualms I have about how politically unstable Mongolia is or basing his analysis of cod fisheries on a single popular accun The Pulitzer-prize winning "Guns, Germs and Steel" by this dude forever changed the way I look at history. And believe me, I am a history buff of sorts so this means a lot. Unfortunately, "Collapse" fails to measure up to that classic. The real problem with Collapse isn't the research that goes into the thesis, or even the soundness of the thesis itself (though there are some qualms I have about how politically unstable Mongolia is or basing his analysis of cod fisheries on a single popular accunt). The central contention, that population explosion, interdependency, unsustainable harvest, adverse cultural values, and about 8 other factors contributed to a society's collapse, is innocuous enough, though admittedly somewhat vague. Rather, the problem is that Diamond is so intent upon clearly and explicitly detailing every freaking argument to paint a convincing picture of the ancient/medieval societies or the current polluting industries that he often loses sight of his larger arguments. For instance, his discussion of Viking Greenland v. Iceland is insightful but whether it warrants nearly 100 pages in a 500 page book I doubt. The same could be said of his discussion of modern Australia; China, in contrast, gets really short shrift. He goes at pain to explicate the archaeological evidence by which we understand the Anasazi collapse, but here too he gets a little repetitive and locquacious. For instance, the logic behind dendrochronolgy and salinization were explained more than once to elucidate yet another nuance. Indeed, here Diamond the scientist persistently gets in the way of Diamond the popular writer. Were it not for his stellar writing skills this would have been even more of a chore to read. Apart from the lack of effective editing, Collapse suffers from Diamond's penchant to almost bend over backward to point out that he is not engaged in a crude form of "Environmental determinism" whereby the significance of cultural and political events are misleadingly downplayed. He certainly didn't do this in Guns Germs and Steel but many people, including the NY Times, accuse him of it. Nevertheless Diamond was sufficiently sensitive to this interpretation (as well as eager to show that we can prevent environmental catastrophe) that he repeats this ad nauseum and, IMHO, belabors this point to being beyond repetitive. The cumulative effect of all these shortcomings is that the book ends up presenting really rather very little that is new, argues persistently against straw man hypotheses, and is informative but almost in a trivial sense. At 520 odd dense pages this is a lot to ask of a reader, and it is a pity that this simply does not measure up to Diamond's earlier works.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    This is a major work. Diamond looks in detail at the factors at play in the demise of civilizations in human history, using a wide range of examples. He offers a framework in which to structure the analysis and looks in great detail at possible (and in many cases certain) reasons why various societies collapsed. He is not a one-note analyst. All problems do not fit the same mold. There is considerable nuance and common sense brought to bear on this examination. Foolishness plays a part, greed, c This is a major work. Diamond looks in detail at the factors at play in the demise of civilizations in human history, using a wide range of examples. He offers a framework in which to structure the analysis and looks in great detail at possible (and in many cases certain) reasons why various societies collapsed. He is not a one-note analyst. All problems do not fit the same mold. There is considerable nuance and common sense brought to bear on this examination. Foolishness plays a part, greed, corruption. But just as frequently, the actors behave rationally. Maybe they were unaware or could not possibly be aware of the larger implications of their actions. Maybe the land in which they lived was ill-suited to large numbers of humans. Maybe changes in climate made what seemed a reasonable place a death trap. Clearly an analysis of why societies failed in the past, with particular attention to environmental issues, has direct relevance to our world today. For example, Polynesian islands that were dependant on resources from other islands collapsed when their import supply dried up. That has relevance to oil-dependant first world nations today, for example. Diamond goes out of his way to make a case that business is business and they are not in the business of performing charity or taking responsibility for the common weal. He does point out that some businesses have been instrumental in forcing improvements in producers. He cited Home Depot and BP among others, although I expect he might have second thoughts about the latter's net impact. I found the book to be extremely eye-opening and informative. It was a long, slow read, but well worth the effort. It makes my short list of must read for anyone seriously interested in current affairs.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gaff

    I considered giving this book 4 instead of 5 stars simply because it can be over-dense in its detail and the style can be rather dry - but then I figured that says more about my stamina and laziness than about the quality of the book, so the book gets 5 and I get a 4 for effort. We're all winners. So despite the headline-grabbing title, the author Jared Diamond - a cross between an Amish garden gnome and avuncular Glastonbury festival supremo if you go by his picture - tries its darndest to avoid I considered giving this book 4 instead of 5 stars simply because it can be over-dense in its detail and the style can be rather dry - but then I figured that says more about my stamina and laziness than about the quality of the book, so the book gets 5 and I get a 4 for effort. We're all winners. So despite the headline-grabbing title, the author Jared Diamond - a cross between an Amish garden gnome and avuncular Glastonbury festival supremo if you go by his picture - tries its darndest to avoid sensationalism, and the author opts instead for what is sorely needed in the environmental debate: sober, empirical analysis. But don't let that put you off - once you put your brain into the right gear this book can be completely consuming and fascinating, and the message and lessons it gives are electrifying. Diamond examines in turn a number of societies, ancient and modern, successful or unsuccessful, and forensically examines what were the factors in their collapse or survival before turning to our modern, global society to ask what lessons we can apply from those past cases to the predicament we face today. We learn about the Easter Islanders (about whom one of Diamond's pupils asked: "What was going through the mind of the man who chopped down the last tree on the island?"), the Anasazi, the Maya, the Greenland Norse and Greenland Inuit, modern day Australia and Montana, shogun-ruled Japan and others. He identifies common environmental problems which collapsed societies have tended to share (deforestation and soil erosion as well as resource depletion cropping up again and again), as well as cultural factors such as systems of government and contact with other societies. He cites some incredible studies such as the examination of ancient middens, of crystallised rodents' piss and of pond sediments to show how we can unravel the mysteries of some of these collapses by using the study of, for example, pollen in sediment or animal bones in middens to paint a vivid picture of climates, deforestation and diets at precise times in these societies' stories. It was this quite academic precision that gave me a quiet thrill and which gives this book its calm authority. Diamond ends by looking at our modern global society and assessing its chances of overcoming the sheer number, breadth, scale and interconnectedness of the ecological problems facing us, and although he insists he is an optimist - and argues that our globalised society gives us advantages in finding solutions as well as giving us zero escape routes if we fail - by the time you finish reading, you feel that as a planet we've got a sheer cliff face to climb, and his optimism sounds a little disingenuous. But educating yourself to understand these issues is a necessary step to doing your bit, and this book will certainly arm you with the sobering facts. If only the debate were always conducted in these civilised (in the best sense of the word) terms.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    The halfway point review: One question I've been wrestling with as I read, as I watch these societies move slightly past sustainability, as I read about societal collapse and the squandering of resources by the wealthy and then the inevitable cannibalism that always seems to show up in the last act, I keep asking myself how the environment became a "political issue." There's no question that environmental resources aren't infinite, yet it seems like the majority of people…or at least the loudest The halfway point review: One question I've been wrestling with as I read, as I watch these societies move slightly past sustainability, as I read about societal collapse and the squandering of resources by the wealthy and then the inevitable cannibalism that always seems to show up in the last act, I keep asking myself how the environment became a "political issue." There's no question that environmental resources aren't infinite, yet it seems like the majority of people…or at least the loudest faction…care less about human life on earth than their own comfort and status. Or else, how can they justify placing jobs, business interests, or anything else ahead of the environment in their values? Is it because environmental damage is such a gradual process? If so, we need to come up with some way to drive home the importance of creating a sustainable way of living. Politicians hedging around environmental issues--while placing these issues on the same level of importance as gays in the military--is clearly not getting us anywhere. Literature on the dangers of global warming and about the human effects on the environment isn't going to get the point across to those who willfully avoid learning about the topic. Does the environmental movement need more advertisements? More celebrity endorsements? I hate asking rhetorical questions, even if my goal is to generate conversation, so my hypothesis, without any evidence to support it, is YES: we need a much fucking better PR department, and we need it quickly. If we are going to keep the global society from reaching the point of some real collapse, we need to change the rhetoric with which we talk about the "environment." The environment is an abstract "out there" that doesn't necessarily include human babies or grandchildren. The way we abstractly think of "the environment" makes this separation of humans from their environment easier. We need rhetoric that makes it clear that when we speak of "the environment," what we are really concerned with is the continued ability for humanity to survive on this planet. What we're talking about isn't separate from people, physically or ethically. I'll end my halfway point review by bringing up the personal guilt that reading these pages has reawakened in me. Reading about the way the Easter Islanders squandered resources building the tremendous statues and headpieces for the glorification of rich people has reminded me of my own complicity. I've always thought of myself as an environmentalist: I take the light-rail whenever possible, recycle, eat with an awareness of where my food comes from. But, even as someone passionate about the environment, I've spent several years working at a bank. I've spent my time too focused on my own education to dedicate much time to preservation…which is what I'm complaining about others doing. What have I truly done to rebel against a society that places greed and opulence above sustainability? I've found ways to reduce the damage that I inflict, but I have done nothing to challenge my society's destructive way of being. So, what right do I have to climb up on my soap-box?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    5-star topic. -1 for organization in the first half. -3 for farcical political economy in the second half. The Mediocre: --The first half surveys a handful of historical collapses and a few survivals; frankly, I do not think there is need to give too much credit for a good choice of topic and fact-gathering. This topic deserves much higher expectations. --I am always impressed how we have standardized bad writing (think “textbook” writing). In this case, we took end-of-civilization (literally) ma 5-star topic. -1 for organization in the first half. -3 for farcical political economy in the second half. The Mediocre: --The first half surveys a handful of historical collapses and a few survivals; frankly, I do not think there is need to give too much credit for a good choice of topic and fact-gathering. This topic deserves much higher expectations. --I am always impressed how we have standardized bad writing (think “textbook” writing). In this case, we took end-of-civilization (literally) material, somehow diluted it from the visceral senses of human/social struggle, vomited the remains onto a canvas, smeared it absent-mindedly to avoid insightful frameworks, and spent 600 pages to watch it dry. So, a standard textbook treatment of an interesting topic, nothing special (at least it was accessible), but this is just the better half… The Farcical: --It is comical when enlightened minds from the great liberal institutions of higher education (judging by the numerous prestigious science awards with Mr. Diamond’s name on them) put their intellect to use on modern social issues. But frankly I expected something a bit more critical from the Geography department; this isn’t Business or American International Relations after all… --The typical shits-and-giggles of a liberal analyzing environmental destruction in the modern world. “Capitalism” is never even named, while short-term profit from reckless legally-mandatory plundering is portrayed as irrational behavior because long-term costs exceed profits for both the public and the plunderers. Scintillating analysis. --Nothing on capitalism’s perfectly rational profit-seeking behavior of externalizing costs, where environment is an obvious candidate to take the burden of the costs (as well as poor people/countries, more on this later). Try: The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power --Nothing on distinguishing experiential value from the market economy’s exchange value (thus rampant commodification and waste), although I would not be surprised if another liberal decides the solution to this is further expansion of market value/private property (which Diamond hints in his portrayal of the “tragedy of the commons”). Try: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails --If my use of "liberal" confuses you, I'm referring to liberal economics: 1) Elites like the Clintons and their patrons. Oligarchs with friendlier rhetoric than reactionaries but still abide by the principle of one-dollar-one-vote. Refuses to acknowledge the dangers of accumulated wealth (i.e. money makes power, money makes money), the profitability of wars/imperialism/debt peonage/negative externalities, etc. 2) The ideology of private accumulation, i.e. those who developed the land deserve to own it. I mean, there's the whole genocidal displacement and imperialist destruction of competition to challenge the idea of "development" with. But even if we accept "development", the serfs who were kicked off their land and forced into the labor market, the plantation slaves and indentured "coolies" and today's global division of labor, i.e. the backbone of industrialization/production, what sliver of the pie do they own? Meanwhile, the 1% of majority shareholders + financiers have "earned" their place primarily through inheritance and rely on the profits from capital gains ("unearned income", property claims + economic rent), not wage labor income. --Try instead: - Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System -Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis --There is a sentence on how executives are legally obligated to maximize profits, immediately followed by placing the responsibility on the public to protest. So, a child’s perception of power structures, got it. But it gets worse. Diamond’s portrayal of the modern world is that of independent nations. Zero sense of the global division of labor and imperialism. Literally, unequal trade deals are blamed on “unsophisticated” poor countries making bad deals with sophisticated rich countries. Enough! --Accessible intro to imperialism "kicking away the ladder": - Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism --Deeper dives: -Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World -The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World -Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    In Collapse, Jared Diamond draws our attention to the following problems, which have "plagued" humanity throughout history. 1. Deforestation and loss of habitat 2. Overhunting 3. Overfishing 4. Soil degradation 5. Water management problems 6. Population growth 7. Increased per capita impact of people 8. Impact of non-native species And now we face four more: 9. Human-caused climate change 10. The build up toxic waste 11. We're approaching the limits of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity 12. Energy shortages In Collapse, Jared Diamond draws our attention to the following problems, which have "plagued" humanity throughout history. 1. Deforestation and loss of habitat 2. Overhunting 3. Overfishing 4. Soil degradation 5. Water management problems 6. Population growth 7. Increased per capita impact of people 8. Impact of non-native species And now we face four more: 9. Human-caused climate change 10. The build up toxic waste 11. We're approaching the limits of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity 12. Energy shortages There are societies that failed to resolve these problems and Diamond's thesis is they collapsed because of it. Perhaps the most engaging example of this pattern is Diamond's discussion of the isolated Polynesians on Easter Island. They used all of their trees, which led to soil erosion, which led to food shortages, which led to cannibalism. We now live in a "globalized world," but perhaps we should say that we're finally realizing that we live on an island. It seems that we have yet to realize the demands we make on our island. **Update 2020: Much of what Diamond writes about Easter Island appears to have been debunked. See Bregman's Humankind for a summary that's written for the general public.** (Is this a bad time to point out that NASA, which apparently costs less per year than the American military spends per year on air conditioning, retired its fleet this week?) I wish that I could just knock off one or two of those problems from Diamond's list, but I can't. Many of them are linked, so if we fail to respond to one, we fail to respond to several. At other times, we lean too hard on solving one problem and end up causing new problems. For example, many forests (Diamond refers to Montana, but I've read about this dynamic elsewhere) have been developed as cottage areas, so we do not allow fires or any logging. The buildup of old forest and underbrush makes for a tinderbox, which means that when fires do happen, they are massive. And putting them out is not free, either. How do you gather political will to deal with a problem like this? We could try to log sustainably and selectively. Jaded by greenwashing, environmentalists are unlikely to trust any company. Cottage owners are certainly not going to recommend logging or allowing fires of any sort to threaten their investments. No politician can gather support, so every stakeholder is stuck. Diamond further illustrates the role of ecological problems in societal collapses by comparing past societies that collapsed (as opposed to declined) throughout history. In each case, he methodically outlines how these societies destroyed themselves by failing to resolve ecological problems. It's pretty convincing, though I've become aware that archeologists dispute many of his claims. I think there is a common concern for the environment. I'm not even 30, so perhaps I can't speak with a great deal of authority on the subject, but it feels to me that North America is obsessed with post-apocalyptic settings right now in 2011. If there is a "spirit" of a society that is translated in its literature, then I think it's safe to say that the bearded guy holding a "the end is nigh" sign is finally getting the mainstream audience he dreamed of. It seems to me the real problem is that it is very difficult to minimize our impact on the environment. We can call upon America to lead the way, but they can't even manage their debt. In fact, the societies that Diamond relies on to illustrate that it is possible to limit deforestation, tend to be autocratic (though so were the societies that Diamond relies on to illustrate failure). Now, some NGOs have set up certification procedures that identify wood that was harvested sustainably, but other corporate commissions have set up their own certification bodies to confuse consumers. Nevertheless, Diamond outlines reasons to be cautiously optimistic before concluding. Unfortunately, this may have been the least convincing part of Collapse. So I'll close with the cynical words of Danny Archer from Blood Diamond. "When was the last time the world wasn't ending?" Usually, I find these words very soothing. Now I feel like the world always has been ending. It's just that until recently, humanity could only end one specific part of it at any given time. Now we're a global society.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sebastien

    This is an exhaustive and exhausting read. Should’ve been tightened up and trimmed down, not only did I get tired of the meandering but I got worn down from getting machine-gunned with an avalanche of what I considered often superfluous details. Still, I thought it was very good, the historical examples of collapse (and also the examples of societies that successfully changed to avoid disaster) were interesting. It put the contemporary analysis/problems we face in perspective. I remember reading This is an exhaustive and exhausting read. Should’ve been tightened up and trimmed down, not only did I get tired of the meandering but I got worn down from getting machine-gunned with an avalanche of what I considered often superfluous details. Still, I thought it was very good, the historical examples of collapse (and also the examples of societies that successfully changed to avoid disaster) were interesting. It put the contemporary analysis/problems we face in perspective. I remember reading Guns, Germs, Steel and while I enjoyed it Diamond's geographical determinism was tiresome and I suspect overplayed. In this book he focuses on environmental stresses and issues playing a role in collapsing societies. I think he does a good job in explaining the multitude of factors beyond this arena, so it isn’t quite as one-tracked and only focused on environmental determinism. I think environment is crucial but it’s important to add proper qualifiers and try to not overplay your thesis. My impression is anthropologists really seem to have an ax to grind with Diamond. Always interesting to see what people from certain fields have to say about popular books written about their domain (especially those books written by someone who isn’t part of their tribe). I haven’t read specific critiques of this book just remember some articles I’ve seen where anthropologists have absolutely smashed Diamond for his other work. I imagine some of their critique is right but it seems overly harsh, a bit overdone leading me to wonder if they aren’t just trying to protect their turf. Anyhow, I’m sure in such a huge book as this one, covering so much material, Diamond made some missteps but I think his overall thesis is ballpark correct (and important!) and the general historical analysis strikes me as solid. Given the interwoven nature of the global economy, intricate complexity of our systems, and rates of environmental destruction and pressures we are applying on environment Diamond readily admits we are facing huge, potentially civilization changing downshifts. Grave risks, weakness or breakdown in one part of the global system can reverberate throughout. So it was kind of jarring to me when he states at the end of his book that he is “cautiously optimistic” we can turn things around in regards to preventing environmental breakdowns and catastrophes for global civilization. I was a bit surprised by that tbh, maybe I was struck by the nonchalance of his optimism especially given his devastating analysis of what we are facing. I’m certainly not as sanguine. I always kind of hope that hey, maybe I’ve just drank too much of that Jonestown Climate Change/Environmental Apocalypse kool-aid ha. Would love to be magnificently wrong on everything but I’d rather try and see things as they are than try and lie to myself with beautiful illusions. I’m just a lay person, but my sense given what I’ve read is that we are in big trouble and courting a slowly unfurling disaster. There were some great sections. I liked the one where he spells out something like a list of 10 reasons/statements people use to minimize environmental problems. This includes people who have magical belief in deux ex machina future tech that will come save us from problems we have or are causing. I’m glad he hates this because I hate it, it really drives me bonkers, the use of this concept is a great way to sidestep any responsibility or accountability for present actions and greenlights continuation of pernicious status quo. I do think tech and innovation can be tools to help us, but they all have various externalities and can cause new problems of their own, plus in regards to environment, since the systems are all so interconnected you destroy or damage one aspect it can lead to a grand cascade. At that point tech can maybe help minimize issues but it is hard (impossible?) if damage is too great the unleashed cascade will shudder throughout the systems. Good luck putting the genie back in the bottle, some changes are irrevocable (6th extinction underway is a good example, even the destruction of what can seem an innocuous tiny microorgamisn can completely change the ecosystem with implications for species in that system). Diamond also points out another argument people use to justify environmental destruction: well the environment is a luxury and we need to do everything we can for our economy (which includes destroying the environment). The economy is driven by the environment! you break the environment (or elements of it) and you will likely hamstring your economy in various ways. Happens again and again. And it's not simple, I understand the tension in this dynamic because if you are hungry today you need to do whatever it is you can to put food on the table and sometimes that includes destroying the environment which will have long term implications, but if you are hungry and desperate you don't have as much luxury to think about or emphasize the long term. I’m not sure how I feel about his soft defense of corporations and his emphasis on the consumer. I think it annoys me, lol. He doesn’t give corporations a free pass, but he tries to explain why they do what they do. He tries to play a balanced view on all this, hey corporations have to operate under their prime directive (PROFITS! at all costs) or they will be sued by shareholders if they don’t (regardless of damage done to environment, community, etc). He also very much emphasizes consumer ability to exert pressure on companies to shift to more environmentally friendly habits. I believe this is a good tactic but can also be limited (not to mention not all consumers have luxury to shift to more environmentally friendly consumption nor the luxury of time to research and learn what those options might be). Ultimately I am of the belief one has to reform the systems we are operating in, this includes reforming how corporations operate (instead of monolithic submission to shareholders I believe in a multi-foundational mission for corporations where community, workers, management, shareholders are all taken into consideration. This is more holistic in my view than the blind submission to shareholders who hold companies and company policy/strategy hostage). The concept of sustainable living might be a high priority for me but it is very hard given the way the system is set up, I still generate a massive amount of trash and use tons of energy… this is not to sidestep accountability, because I should be held accountable and I can do better and many things I can do... but I think even the best intentioned have a hard time because our society is set up in such a way that we are nudged (pushed!) towards more environmentally destructive options (these are cheaper, more convenient options usually, sometimes the only option). Diamond doesn’t really get into this concept of reforming corporations or the infrastructure and systems within our society. I think this is a good book but if you are looking for a concise systems analysis text on the environmental issues we are facing and the earth’s capacity to sustain it I highly recommend Donna Meadows Limits to Growth (30 year edition): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7... This was my favorite quote from the book and I think it is very good and can be applied to how blinded our thinking can be, including my own: “[T]he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.” Oh, and here is another good quote. Diamond touches on this concept and it is pertinent to many problems: elites being insulated from the problems they create. It is often elites/corporations who extract wealth then hightail it out of there with no consequences for their actions/environmental destruction (letting other people deal with the destruction or messes they create, while elites pocket all the $$$). This quote is more about the insulation of elites on the consumption side of things, but the extraction (production) side is important imo and I was glad to see Diamond explore that problem: “In much of the rest of the world, rich people live in gated communities and drink bottled water. That's increasingly the case in Los Angeles where I come from. So that wealthy people in much of the world are insulated from the consequences of their actions."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Conrad

    Guns, Germs and Steel occasionally felt like monday morning quarterbacking, but Collapse is superb. In GG&S, Diamond tried to explain how technologies that evolved in some places did not in others, how some communities thrived due to excess food and more advanced agriculture, while others, perpetually on the verge of starvation, had to devote all of their time to dealing with that and thus didn't have time for building the Parthenon. The argument was not airtight - his notion of what constitutes Guns, Germs and Steel occasionally felt like monday morning quarterbacking, but Collapse is superb. In GG&S, Diamond tried to explain how technologies that evolved in some places did not in others, how some communities thrived due to excess food and more advanced agriculture, while others, perpetually on the verge of starvation, had to devote all of their time to dealing with that and thus didn't have time for building the Parthenon. The argument was not airtight - his notion of what constitutes a reasonable amount of time to spend on gathering food could use a little sharpening, and he didn't approach work as part and parcel of culture, which it most certainly is. GG&S also overlooked a lot of crops available to people he strenuously argued had nothing to eat - for example, Acai in the Amazon Basin (a superfood which constitutes 45% of the diet of some locals) and others elsewhere. In Collapse, Diamond examines how several ancient societies (Easter Island, Mangareva/Pitcairn Lapita, Maya, the Norse colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland) fell apart due to resource management issues, the environmental challenges faced by a few modern countries (Australia, Japan, China), and the best ways to avoid a tragedy of the commons-type situation that results in a drastically reduced standard of living for everyone. The author is breathtakingly impartial, sometimes to a fault; he laconically remarks, for example, that "George W. Bush remains unconvinced of the reality of global warming." Overall, Diamond seems most worried about erosion, which he sees as a bigger problem than global warming because of the difficulty of replacing arable land, and the multitude of ways it can be destroyed. You can buy all the long-line-caught Chilean sea bass you want, and eat organic lettuce all day, and still have an awful impact on the environment because the soil in which the lettuce grows is a limited resource, as are the fisheries that produce the fish you buy, which also suffer from land degradation. Diamond thinks that a lot of the resources we rely on have been made artificially cheap through subsidies and foolish government management of limited resources. He's right, but there is a conflict between egalitarianism and environmentalism lurking between the pages of this book: I don't think you can charge the right amount for energy or food or other essentials without further immiserating the poor. That's the unmet challenge of the environmental movement, the one this and most books on the subject dodge. Despite that, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Collapse for its details on everyday life in Norse Greenland and Easter Island alone, not just for the nuanced analysis.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Felicia

    So I was in Belize for the holiday and became fascinated with all the Mayan ruins I visited. I had been to Copan in Honduras years ago, but was reminded of the great glory of this civilization, and the controversial collapse that happened to disperse people from these great structures around 900 AD. I love Guns Germs and Steel more than anything, it changed how I look at history and people and society, so I dug into this one, particularly the Mayan part, with great excitement. And it doesn't disa So I was in Belize for the holiday and became fascinated with all the Mayan ruins I visited. I had been to Copan in Honduras years ago, but was reminded of the great glory of this civilization, and the controversial collapse that happened to disperse people from these great structures around 900 AD. I love Guns Germs and Steel more than anything, it changed how I look at history and people and society, so I dug into this one, particularly the Mayan part, with great excitement. And it doesn't disappoint. A lot of this book is clearly set up to support the author's argument, that it is the roll of the dice of how delicate the ecology is where societies set up shop, and how the societies treated them that causes collapse. Basically an extension of Guns Germs and Steel. This puts a stark face on how we should and need to consider dealing with the environment cards we're dealt though. Nothing is more tragic than the Easter Island chapter, it is breathtaking the research and evidence that proves why they disappeared, and tragic if you think about it in the context of our earth, from which we really cannot escape, same as the Easter Islanders. If you are an environmentalist or not, there are thought provoking ideas and statistics here that put a concrete face to a cause that has become an emotional and numbing topic. You can tell people what they SHOULD care about, what they SHOULD do, but until you convince yourself it's important, you cannot change yourself or who is around you. This book put that part of me that feels strongly about preserving/managing the environment, and made it logical and scientific again. This is NOT a book trying to convince you to care about the environment, it's a survey of lost civilizations and how they collapsed. The awareness for me was a byproduct, and fascinating in its own right.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Quo

    Jared Diamond's non-fiction work Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail & Succeed quite definitely has an exceedingly broad scope, attempting to discern the variables that cause a country or a specific geographic landscape to survive or to encounter a gradual or a precipitous decline. The areas examined initially may not appear to have much in common but the author focuses on the ways in which various stresses occur within a group of people and their responses to whatever imperils their continue Jared Diamond's non-fiction work Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail & Succeed quite definitely has an exceedingly broad scope, attempting to discern the variables that cause a country or a specific geographic landscape to survive or to encounter a gradual or a precipitous decline. The areas examined initially may not appear to have much in common but the author focuses on the ways in which various stresses occur within a group of people and their responses to whatever imperils their continued health & future existence, ranging from New Guinea to Rwanda-Burundi to Easter Island to Greenland. Interestingly, the book begins with an area of particular interest to Jared Diamond & his family, Montana, and a consideration of how wealthy folks buying 3rd or 4th homes in that state, so-called "trophy or investment homes" that are seldom visited, together with large-scale mining interests bringing destructive side-effects such as toxic waste have changed the character of the western state. To be sure, there is ambiguity in the manner in which the author portrays specific declines but his investigation of cultures under stress & the decisions each makes or fails to make seem in each case quite interesting, even if not always completely captivating. In the case of Easter Island, the causes for ecological demise are internal, including deforestation & suggesting a parallel with many places around the globe today, Haiti included among them. Jared Diamond demonstrates how Maya culture differed from Anasazi, with the former having written records but no pack animals, thus making expansion or movement less possible. Mayan calendars date from 3,114 BC, 2,500 years prior to "New World" calendars. Mayan diets are examined & it is noted that unlike Aztec & Inca cultures, Mayans were largely rooted in place, making empire & also war less possible. Collapse has an environmental emphasis but a sociological component as well, for example suggesting that with the Vikings "trading led to raiding" but in the case of Greenland, a sense of racial superiority or ethnocentrism prevented the Viking "colonists" in Greenland from learning survival techniques from the native Inuit who might have served as willing partners, eventually leading to the demise of their initially prosperous settlement. Again, unwholesome treatment of the land + an innate arrogance precipitated the downfall, as the Norse population bespoiled the land, failed to adapt to a new landscape, sought to preserve customs that were alien to a different part of the world & looked upon the native Inuit as competition. Meanwhile, the Tikopia people of New Guinea seem to have developed a naturally benevolent form of sustainability of their own lands & but often at a "stiff price". They practiced crop rotation & a balance of nature but also engaged in population control that involved euthanasia, infanticide & clan wars. Japan also has done an excellent job of retaining nature in the midst of a very crowded environment, achieving zero population growth, though the Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido were made dependent on Japan & weaned from their own self-sustaining mode of life. It seems that in Japan the seafood diet meant an absence of cows, goats & other animals that were not always advantageous for the soil and also the ruling Shogan & local guards served as ecological stewards of the land. Thomas Malthus is cited because populations often expand well beyond the ability of the soil to produce sufficient crops for increasing humanity because "populations expand exponentially & food production expands arithmetically". Other variables explored include people following historically valued but outmoded patterns of behavior toward the land (which the author labels "sunk cost effect"), the effect of globalization & how high to extreme population density can be a factor in the cause of genocide, with Rwanda-Burundi as an example. One of the most compelling images is a map with an overlap of nations that are both environmental & political trouble-spots today. Beyond that, globalism is said to link us all, both via technology & increasing toxic waste. Jared Diamond's Collapse appeared in 2005 & some elements of the book now seem somewhat dated. Presently people tend to avoid terminology that references "1st World vs. 3rd World" countries, etc. The material covered is indeed often treated with a broad brush & there is more than a little repetition in the book. Also, there are some rather obscure words & with a 550+ page book, a glossary would not have represented a burdensome expansion. That said, I enjoyed the curious approach of Jared Diamond's scholarship, the portrayed linkages between overcrowding & deforestation, the author's commentary about the preeminent importance of sustainability & his guardedly positive sense of the future of our planet. Jared Diamond has an eclectic background with degrees in Anthropology, History, Physiology & Bioethics from Harvard & Cambridge Universities. *There are 24 pages of black & white photos, including images of Easter Island & Angkor Wat, with the latter treated by Diamond in an epilogue to the book. Collapse is recommended by the Cambridge University Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda NEVER MANDY

    The author of this book was extremely long-winded, so I am going to do the opposite with this review and keep it short and simple. I went into this read excited by the content. I love history and I love little known history even more. This book was a blend of past, present and future regarding how humans are affecting the planet. The basic premise was good and the examples the author chose to write about were perfect. I rank the chapters that discussed Easter Island, various other islands and Gre The author of this book was extremely long-winded, so I am going to do the opposite with this review and keep it short and simple. I went into this read excited by the content. I love history and I love little known history even more. This book was a blend of past, present and future regarding how humans are affecting the planet. The basic premise was good and the examples the author chose to write about were perfect. I rank the chapters that discussed Easter Island, various other islands and Greenland’s Viking colony the highest because they were fascinating. The other chapters contained some interesting information too but weren’t as engaging. I kept dozing off while reading them and considered skimming through them more times than I care to admit. Three stars to a book that needed a few hundred pages of unnecessary extra removed from it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    fourtriplezed

    As I have read this book the bush fire crisis in Australia was making news worldwide. Jared Diamond devoted an entire chapter to Australia in this 15 year old book and it made stark reading considering. He hardly covered fire that devours but had a lot to say about water, agriculture and mining. Mining is huge in this country to the point that multi national and local miners can campaign very hard, with the mass media heavyweight assistance of US plutocrat Rupert Murdoch, to get what they want. As I have read this book the bush fire crisis in Australia was making news worldwide. Jared Diamond devoted an entire chapter to Australia in this 15 year old book and it made stark reading considering. He hardly covered fire that devours but had a lot to say about water, agriculture and mining. Mining is huge in this country to the point that multi national and local miners can campaign very hard, with the mass media heavyweight assistance of US plutocrat Rupert Murdoch, to get what they want. Governments will fall; some people do become silent as the fear of a smashing in the media as to their thoughts on the degradation of resources for cheap return are generally turned into some cheap point scoring propaganda on behalf of vested interests. Can I complain? Can I hell! Me and my generation, boomers, has made a mint from the resource sector via our superannuation with fast and easy returns and now in our dotage have a lot to yell about at those bludging whining youngsters. Good grief! Who are these people to complain about us receiving tax credits back from the PAYE taxpayer for our 1.9 million dollar worth of shares? 6,000 odd bucks a pop for that little investment. I’m alright Jack. Which is why, depending on one’s point of view, the more interesting chapter in this book is 14 Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions? The premise of this chapter can cover the individual as well. There is rational behaviour behind all decisions no matter how (seemingly) poor. And here’s (seemingly) one for any of you that read my scribble. Diamond discusses the foolishness of cotton growing in Queensland and northern New South Wales that depletes water resources from the likes of the Murray Darling downstream. This is a big deal and nothing to do with one’s political belief. Rural (and with that very conservative) electorates downstream have complaining for years and years about water loss. Google is your friend to read up on this. So with cotton, drought etc. what do we get? Dubbo, a town in central NSW, easing water restrictions for the watering of one’s garden. And what a debate! How’s this for one news item on the subject pork chops? https://7news.com.au/news/environment... For a more cerebral read look at this. ttps://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/scrapping... Diamond writes that he is hopeful that correct decisions will be made with pressure from the public in general and gives many reasons as to why this has been successful. Again this all depends on ones point of view but after watching the power of the media to support and sway opinion in Australia over the issue of the environment (and tax credits on fully franked shares) I have my doubts. It was suggested to me that some of the research may have been superseded, and a very quick internet read early on showed there was some thoughts as to the book becoming dated. Be that as it may it has been a good read and worth the effort.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charlie George

    [2011 Update: I am re-reading this after not quite 2 years. I have come to regard this book as the best non-fiction I've had the pleasure of reading, and recommend it emphatically if you have an interest in any of the subjects in which I have it categorized on my shelves.] A masterwork, better even than Mr. Diamond's Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel. Collapse bridges the gap between anthropology and environmentalism, and critically connects each with our own welfare, both collectively and a [2011 Update: I am re-reading this after not quite 2 years. I have come to regard this book as the best non-fiction I've had the pleasure of reading, and recommend it emphatically if you have an interest in any of the subjects in which I have it categorized on my shelves.] A masterwork, better even than Mr. Diamond's Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel. Collapse bridges the gap between anthropology and environmentalism, and critically connects each with our own welfare, both collectively and as individuals. Diamond rightly takes to task environmental attitudes that appear to mindlessly value endangered birds or coral reefs above people's interests or livelihood. That said, he also clarifies which aspects of the environment we should care about and why. He tallies dollars cost and lives lost. He illustrates in example after well-documented example the consequences for societies disregarding their resource base or destructive practices. He repeatedly and explicitly asks the question: "well it obviously sucks to be a blue-footed bubi bird, but why should Joe Blow Logger care when he has the more pressing need to feed his family?" Well he should care very much about forests because he depends on them for his income. If he wants those children not to struggle with poverty and a declining society and standard of living, he should further care about many other aspects of the environment. The biggies throughout history that have played a primary role in virtually every societal collapse are deforestation and soil erosion and/or salinization. To that we add a host of other common problems that can and must be solved, including habitat loss, water management and pollution, greenhouse gasses, resource over-exploitation, and energy supply. Diamond goes deeper than simply blaming corporations for their destructive practices. He examines the policies and economic realities that drive corporations in polluting industries like mining to behave as they do, or the pressures they face. The fact is, in a market economy, where profit is the motive, successful companies will pollute to the full extent that our laws and attitudes allow. He states: "I also assign to the public the added costs, if any, of sound environmental practices, which I regard as normal costs of doing business. My views may seem to ignore a moral imperative that businesses should follow virtuous principles, whether or not it is most profitable for them to do so. Instead I prefer to recognize that... government regulation has arisen precisely... for the enforcement of moral principles." Of course the rest of the book demonstrates how it is far more urgent than a mere moral principle, but a practical one necessary to ensure any society's long-term survival.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Although I only gave this book three stars, I can recommend it a little bit over that. I found it interesting, but not quite as compelling as I might have if I wasn’t already familiar with some parts of the story. I took graduate classes in International Relations, specializing in China as well as international political economy, so I didn’t find any surprises in the abstract background to Collapse. Some very intriguing parts were the stories of collapse of vanished societies, as many have noted Although I only gave this book three stars, I can recommend it a little bit over that. I found it interesting, but not quite as compelling as I might have if I wasn’t already familiar with some parts of the story. I took graduate classes in International Relations, specializing in China as well as international political economy, so I didn’t find any surprises in the abstract background to Collapse. Some very intriguing parts were the stories of collapse of vanished societies, as many have noted in other reviews. But also quite enjoyable were the explanations for why others did not collapse, especially the near-miss of the Tokugawa Shogunate as prosperity almost led them to devastate their forests — it is almost an accident of history that the Japanese home islands aren’t as barren as Easter Island. The chapter on modern Australia was also quite eye-opening. After reading this litany of miseries, all I can say to my Australian friends is “Good luck, mate. You’re gonna need it.” I think everyone living on the edge of the Pacific Ocean needs to spend more time studying the ENSO — El Niño Southern Oscillation. It will certainly have a major impact on California, too. Perhaps my favorite portion of the book were Chapters 14 and 15, in which Diamond explores societal responses to these threats. Chapter 14 is titled “Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?” and begins with a tidy discussion of decision theory and cognitive biases. I suspect a professional Decision Theorist might scoff at the oversimplification and lacunae of his explanation, but Diamond can place it in a riveting real-world context that cements how a careful analysis can help us understand such twisted and paradoxical situations. (In this I am reminded of the fascinating classic Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis .) This chapter allowed him to answer a question he was asked by a student: “When that person cut down the last palm tree on Easter Island, what on earth could they have been thinking?” turns out to have a rather obvious answer: by the time that last palm was cut down, centuries of deforestation had already taken place, and the crucial cultural importance of those trees would have long since disappeared. Chapter 15, “Big Business and the Environment,” is also quite absorbing. Diamond contrasts the very different environmental impact of two oil fields, and continues with the particular problems of hardrock mining, coal mining, logging and fisheries. His inquiry into why some corporations and industries are are more amenable to social pressure casts a minor hopeful note into the symphony of despair. There are a few complaints that need to be aired. First, Diamond could really use a forceful editor with an eye towards clarity. The professor is very prolix, with a pedantic tendency to repeat himself. For example, every time Diamond referred to palynology, he felt compelled to explain it again. In such a large book which undoubtedly took many years to compose, this is understandable — but not in the final draft. That’s why editors are supposed to employed. Perhaps asking him to be succinct is asking too much, but it would be nice to nudge him in that direction. Second, while his “Further Reading” appendix is welcome, it doesn’t excuse the lack of a bibliography, especially since index doesn’t seem to cover that appendix. Finally, the book starts out on a weak note in Montana. His affection for the Bitterroot Valley is understandable, but its problems are nowhere near as engrossing and dramatic as those that follow, and the relevance of a struggling rural community tucked deep inside the world’s wealthiest nation makes it hard to understand its relevance. It would have been best left to personalize and clarify a concluding chapter, perhaps, although the chapter on Australia did a more than adequate job of showing how pressing the threats of collapse can be in a modern first-world society. In the end, while this book was adequately absorbing, it didn’t bring me much closer to my quest. No book I’ve yet found has adequately discussed the question “How likely is it that the entire global civilization will collapse in the coming century, leading to centuries of a new ‘dark age’ of reduced life expectancy, welfare and technology?” ­

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    A book recommended to anyone who enjoyed The Overstory and who wants a non-fictional account of many of the ideas there. Very detailed book by author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” – enjoyable and provocative, although very detailed and easiest to read simply cover-to-cover while trying to absorb the bigger picture. Diamond’s big theme is to look at historical environmental induced societal collapse and to identify five main reasons that cause collapse (or its opposite). These are: damage that people A book recommended to anyone who enjoyed The Overstory and who wants a non-fictional account of many of the ideas there. Very detailed book by author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” – enjoyable and provocative, although very detailed and easiest to read simply cover-to-cover while trying to absorb the bigger picture. Diamond’s big theme is to look at historical environmental induced societal collapse and to identify five main reasons that cause collapse (or its opposite). These are: damage that people inadvertently inflict on their environment; the impact of climate change (particularly sudden climate change as society may be adapted to very different conditions); hostile neighbours; decreased support by friendly neighbours (e.g. the collapse of trading partners); and most importantly societies own response to the environmental problems. In a separate chapter on the latter he identifies reasons for inadequate responses as: failure to anticipate a problem (either because it had not happened before – or particularly in pre-literate societies because they have forgotten past occurrences, or because of misapplying analogies e.g. something that worked in a different situation); failure to perceive a problem has arisen (e.g. hidden problems or creeping issues – slow trends masked by fluctuations); irrational reactions even though a problem has been identified (groupthink, tragedy of the commons, clashes if interest, clinging to values which are no longer helpful). Opening chapter is Diamond’s comments on the environmental problems in his own area of Montana – although I could understand that the point of this chapter was to place historical issues in modern terms I actually found little identification with this chapter. I also found the sections at the end on the role of business a little self serving (Diamond has been criticised by other environmentalists for attempting to engage with e.g. oil and mining companies). He then considers a number of historical civilisation collapses: Easter Island (deforestation); Pitcairn and Henderson Islands (collapse of trading partners); the Native American Anasazi (environmental damage/population growth combined with climate change); Mayas (as for Anasazi although with hostile neighbours); Norse Greenland (a very detailed treatment where the failure of the Norse compared with the survival of the Inuit is due to all of the five factors). He then considers some historical societies that succeeded (Iceland, New Guinea highlands, old Japan). In each of these he draws parallels with the modern world and brings this together in a chapter at the end. In the modern era he discusses the Rwandan tragedy, contrasts Dominican Republic and Haiti and then considers the developing situation in Australia and Japan.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Mediocre book. Parts were interesting, but this was mostly an environmental polemic. The writing is dry, tedious and over-detailed. The organization could have used work. The modern seemed slipped in randomly and the chapters often just repeated the same thing over and over. Basically, the book was just too long. The content was largely pointless to a book allegedly about history. The few history sections were interesting as was the chapter drawing overall conclusions based on said history. This Mediocre book. Parts were interesting, but this was mostly an environmental polemic. The writing is dry, tedious and over-detailed. The organization could have used work. The modern seemed slipped in randomly and the chapters often just repeated the same thing over and over. Basically, the book was just too long. The content was largely pointless to a book allegedly about history. The few history sections were interesting as was the chapter drawing overall conclusions based on said history. This book fell apart in the modern sections. For one, while they may be failed states, they haven’t exactly collapsed into ancient ruins. For another, the author can’t seem to talk about the modern without adopted a superior lecturing tone that he knows better than the reader or society. Fact is, the universe is entropic. Things will collapse no matter what which means that people in the future will look at the ruins and write books like this one. They will speculate and say they know better than the society they’re studying. As such, the biggest issue with the modern sections is that they’re dated as of 2005 or so. They suffer from the immediacy bias, i.e. the speculation and extrapolation are based on now, or in this case, then. The author is bound to be wrong as the world turns and changes so ideas and solutions are just a waste of book space. Far better are those authors who provide the framework for analysis and case studies but who refrain from projecting their opinions into the future. Those are the books which will stand the test of time, not this particular book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    Collapse is even better than Guns, Germs, and Steel. And this time Diamond focuses, not on how environments have shaped people, but how we have transformed our environments. He looks at various places that suffered environmental collapse in the past, like Yucatan or Greenland, then looks at some relative success stories like Japan or the Dominican Republic. He mainly covers places where he has both personal experience and great background knowledge. The resulting tour is marvelously insightful, Collapse is even better than Guns, Germs, and Steel. And this time Diamond focuses, not on how environments have shaped people, but how we have transformed our environments. He looks at various places that suffered environmental collapse in the past, like Yucatan or Greenland, then looks at some relative success stories like Japan or the Dominican Republic. He mainly covers places where he has both personal experience and great background knowledge. The resulting tour is marvelously insightful, and close to the finest non-fiction writing out there. But his examples leave out the sites of history's greatest environmental collapses and challenges, across North Africa and the Middle East.

  21. 4 out of 5

    dead letter office

    Extremely repetitive, inadequately researched, highly speculative, and overly assertive. Jared Diamond clearly knows a lot about some things, but he seems to think he knows a lot about everything. And he gets a lot wrong, at least on the things I know something about (Easter Island, for example, where his Collapse hypothesis is generally regarded by people who actually study the island's history and prehistory as wildly off-base and unsupported by evidence). This book was clearly written by some Extremely repetitive, inadequately researched, highly speculative, and overly assertive. Jared Diamond clearly knows a lot about some things, but he seems to think he knows a lot about everything. And he gets a lot wrong, at least on the things I know something about (Easter Island, for example, where his Collapse hypothesis is generally regarded by people who actually study the island's history and prehistory as wildly off-base and unsupported by evidence). This book was clearly written by someone who had a theory (Collapse) and went looking for evidence to justify it. Fine, I suppose, but that's the opposite of a scientific approach (examine evidence and search for a theory to explain it). Stylistically, his tendency to repeat every point two or three or four times might be helpful in the classroom, but it's irritating to read. Overall, my strong recommendation is not to bother with this book. Seriously, it's almost impossible to distinguish between the assertions that are supported by evidence and accepted by experts and those that are just Jared Diamond's speculation. Unfortunately, this hit the bestseller list and lots of his speculation became accepted by intelligent people who don't happen to be experts.

  22. 4 out of 5

    simon aloyts

    The esteemed Jared Diamond, author of one of the most insightful and profound books of the previous decade: Guns Germs and Steel, tried to break the wave of his success on Collapse, a book about the failure of societies due to a laundry-list of (mostly environmental) issues. It’s too soon to render a verdict on the bearded Professor (unlike Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson) since he wisely chose topics which cannot be gauged within a human lifetime but the book itself was a real steaming pile of e The esteemed Jared Diamond, author of one of the most insightful and profound books of the previous decade: Guns Germs and Steel, tried to break the wave of his success on Collapse, a book about the failure of societies due to a laundry-list of (mostly environmental) issues. It’s too soon to render a verdict on the bearded Professor (unlike Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson) since he wisely chose topics which cannot be gauged within a human lifetime but the book itself was a real steaming pile of environmental compost. I can’t resist quoting Fred L. Smith Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute: "[a] jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces laid out on the table - no structure, no serious organization." Indeed, I was so pissed after reading this book that I wanted to rip out all 592 pages and use every single one to give the author paper cuts between his toes. Then set him out barefoot on the New Guinea lowlands about which he can’t seem to shut the flock up. But this is a book review and I digress because I’m getting all worked up again so I’m going to end this paragraph prematurely: *SPURT*

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I did read at least half of this book. The section on Easter Island is one of the most memorable things I've read in the past few years, and I'd recommend it to anyone. This book goes on my guilt shelf because shortly after he got to China, I got too depressed to continue. It's also a bit heavy (literally) for subway reading, and returning to New York from California with it combined with the prospect of learning about China's impact on the environment was just too much for this reader.... So Col I did read at least half of this book. The section on Easter Island is one of the most memorable things I've read in the past few years, and I'd recommend it to anyone. This book goes on my guilt shelf because shortly after he got to China, I got too depressed to continue. It's also a bit heavy (literally) for subway reading, and returning to New York from California with it combined with the prospect of learning about China's impact on the environment was just too much for this reader.... So Collapse is sitting on my real-life, non-virtual bookshelf with a JetBlue boaring pass marking my place, frozen in time like the artifact of some extinct civilization. If I were really to make a comprehensive shelf of Books I Feel Like a Lazy Jerk for Not Having Read, Guns, Germs and Steel would also be on it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Saleh MoonWalker

    Onvan : Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Nevisande : Jared Diamond - ISBN : 143036556 - ISBN13 : 9780143036555 - Dar 608 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2004

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed succeeds in educating the reader about components of previous societies that led to their collapses and how those same components present themselves in today's global society. Lest anyone thinks this creates a negative, somber doomsday of a book, it doesn't. Diamond writes positively and offers much hope. I appreciated his approach to controversial subjects such as abortion used as a method to keep population down. He doesn't resort to the typica Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed succeeds in educating the reader about components of previous societies that led to their collapses and how those same components present themselves in today's global society. Lest anyone thinks this creates a negative, somber doomsday of a book, it doesn't. Diamond writes positively and offers much hope. I appreciated his approach to controversial subjects such as abortion used as a method to keep population down. He doesn't resort to the typical guilting or fear tactics that so many environmentalists use to force their opinion on their readers. Diamond uses a straight-forward approach that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. The book avoids the usual dose of environmental politics which I highly appreciated. My one beef with this book revolves around the writing. Diamond writes this book like he would deliver a lecture. Although, I didn't find it boring because of the amount of high-quality research, new information and the subject matter, the frequent re-capping became annoying after a few chapters. I resorted to skip-reading through the chapter-end summaries about half the way through this lengthy book. I found the ending chapters mostly redundant also, because I had already understood the similarities between our cultures and the ancient or troubled ones. However, in spite of the redundant-tendencies, I would recommend this book because of the wealth of information it contains. I think it has an eye-opening message for us regarding our dependence on each other's natural resources (as nations) and potential consequences of that interdependence. writing = 3 stars content = 4.5 stars relevance = 5.0 stars I finished this big book in less than a month! = 5 stars

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Diamond's prior 'Guns, Germs & Steel' addresses the reasons why some peoples in some areas of the world produced civilizations and others didn't. The factors emphasized are material and the subtext is that these factors, not moral or racial inferiority, were decisive. 'Disaster' tells the other side of the story, namely why some cultures and civilizations fail while others succeed. This is done through case studies such as a comparison of Viking Greenland (failure) to the Inuits (success) and Vi Diamond's prior 'Guns, Germs & Steel' addresses the reasons why some peoples in some areas of the world produced civilizations and others didn't. The factors emphasized are material and the subtext is that these factors, not moral or racial inferiority, were decisive. 'Disaster' tells the other side of the story, namely why some cultures and civilizations fail while others succeed. This is done through case studies such as a comparison of Viking Greenland (failure) to the Inuits (success) and Viking Iceland (near failure, current recovery) and Creole Haiti (failure) to the Spanish Dominican Republic (success). There are many other examples, including contemporary Montana, but these are the clearest comparisons. A common thread of the exemplary failure is that of populations outstripping resources. Another is that of cascading effects once saturation occurs. While the outlook is bleak, Diamond is at pains to point to success stories and to discuss the means by which good decisions have been and might be made as regards environmentally sustainable practices.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lilo Abernathy

    If you care about the world and the survival of the human race, then you must read this book. Period. Buy it now. It will teach you more than you ever thought possible in one book. You will look at the world differently. It will expand your mind. - Lilo Author of The Light Who Shines And just to be technically correct, this is not a review. It is a recommendation.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ram

    A book about environment, and how humans are exhausting the planets resources. The author describes the following topics which were the main reason or contributed to the fall of societies in the past: Deforestation and habitat destructions Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses) Water management problems Overhunting Overfishing Effects of introduced species on native species Overpopulation Increased per-capita impact of people In addition to this, the following topics did not exis A book about environment, and how humans are exhausting the planets resources. The author describes the following topics which were the main reason or contributed to the fall of societies in the past: Deforestation and habitat destructions Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses) Water management problems Overhunting Overfishing Effects of introduced species on native species Overpopulation Increased per-capita impact of people In addition to this, the following topics did not exist in the past but may contribute to the decline of humans in the near future. Anthropogenic climate change Buildup of toxins in the environment Energy shortages Full human use of the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity The author presents various examples from past societies that declined because they over consumed a crucial element of their environment and did not adapt to it's shortage: The Greenland Norse (climate change, environmental damage, loss of trading partners) Easter Island (a society that collapsed entirely due to environmental damage) The Polynesians of Pitcairn Island (environmental damage and loss of trading partners) The Anasazi of southwestern North America (environmental damage and climate change) The Maya of Central America (environmental damage, climate change, and hostile neighbors) Jared Diamond gives some examples from the past where societies did manage to adapt to the changes: The tiny Pacific island of Tikopia The agricultural success of central New Guinea The forest management in Japan of the Tokugawa-era, and in Germany. In the second part of the book various modern societies are discussed and the author shows that they are on the sure path to exploiting or destroying crucial resources of the environment and apparently not much is done about it: The collapse into genocide of Rwanda, caused in part by overpopulation The failure of Haiti compared with the relative success of its neighbor on Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic The problems facing a developing nation, China The problems facing a First World nation, Australia The book concludes with various ways the modern world can solve the environmental issues and what has already been done (not much) Considering the action's (and non actions) by the current American president, Donald Trump, I found great importance in this book. The success stories of environment preserving in this book, started with recognition of the problem and willingness to make short term sacrifices in order to solve it. The recent actions of the American government (Pulling out of the Paris climate pact and increasing coal minning and other environment unfriendly activities) give this book increased importance.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Will Ansbacher

    This would have been a better book at about half the length. Diamond is a devotee of that style that is heavily promoted for oral presentations – say what you are going to say, say it using bullets for emphasis and clarity, and say what you just said by way of summary. The dreaded PowerPoint syndrome, in other words. So, when ploughing through the admittedly interesting and illuminating chapters, I found I was waiting each time for the Five Points That Indicate Society’s Success or Failure, and This would have been a better book at about half the length. Diamond is a devotee of that style that is heavily promoted for oral presentations – say what you are going to say, say it using bullets for emphasis and clarity, and say what you just said by way of summary. The dreaded PowerPoint syndrome, in other words. So, when ploughing through the admittedly interesting and illuminating chapters, I found I was waiting each time for the Five Points That Indicate Society’s Success or Failure, and yes, I was not disappointed, for every chapter has the same structure. Example cascades over example; it’s not that the message is wrong or untimely, but it’s so relentless! The ultimate point of Collapse is of course to highlight the parallels with our own society and perhaps provide a sort of roadmap for the future. But for all of his conclusions that there is hope for us, he really does not provide much evidence, so the end is a bit of an anticlimax. Collapse was written before our own latest financial “collapse” in 2008. It would have been interesting to know what Diamond’s thoughts about that were, and I had hoped the epilogue written in that year might have addressed that. But no, the extra pages about Angkor Wat really adds nothing to the book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    I've just completed a second reading of this exemplary book of science writing. It's no joke to say I am doubly impressed. Jared Diamond shows how careful reasoning can bring understanding while his love of the scientific investigative process pulls the reader into intimate contact with distant places and times that offer lessons for today. While his Guns, Germs and Steel is written in the same close analytical style, Collapse is the book Diamond was born to write. His method investigates both fai I've just completed a second reading of this exemplary book of science writing. It's no joke to say I am doubly impressed. Jared Diamond shows how careful reasoning can bring understanding while his love of the scientific investigative process pulls the reader into intimate contact with distant places and times that offer lessons for today. While his Guns, Germs and Steel is written in the same close analytical style, Collapse is the book Diamond was born to write. His method investigates both failure and success to determine their causes. From what is learned our own modern world is surveyed to see what we can expect based on our current practice. Human intelligence is no guarantee of group survival. People form societies having goals both material and emotional/moral that direct group behavior and that must meet the test of time in how the environment is handled. Being immersed in a society makes it difficult to see what appears to be right and proper at the time objectively. Being alive today gives the necessary psychological distance for us, if we have the skills of the author, to use the tools of science to examine the good moves or blunders of the past as dispassionately as possible. But as Diamond cautions us, we should take into account our removal from the scene before saying of failure, "how could they be so stupid?". The title of this book attracts attention, but accounts of failure are only a part of what Diamond relates. After all, we are still here. Overall, he is able to propose certain factors, at least some of which come together in any specific situation to determine if a society will survive. A main point of the book is to show the reader how today's huge population and the worldwide interaction of humanity makes specific location beside the point. We are all on the road to success or failure together. There's enough poignancy and drama for a novel. How is it that a heavily forested island, as Easter Island once was, comes to be barren of trees after humans, who are dependent on those trees, arrive? What are those huge stone heads for (they are actually full bodies with oversize heads) and why were every one of them that had been laboriously set in place deliberately toppled over? Believe it or not, the tools that were used to carve out the figures are still at the excavation sites as if they were suddenly dropped and abandoned. If you are in the least bit curious, this book will not only spark your interest but will satisfy you with the results of often laborious investigations, thousands of hours of work, by specialists in a number of fields. The reader will be amazed at the techniques that are used to determine what happened long ago based on radio carbon dating or the detailed examination of ancient pollen, but even where objects are found positioned in relation to each other can tell a story. The author carefully but simply and quickly explains how each technique works. Like any good science writer, he wants the reader to know; to be part of an informed public. Failure can come after an extended period of success. The Maya and the Norse settlers of Greenland continued for hundreds of years before the collapse of their societies in the face of environmental warnings they did not heed. The Norse, at the point of starvation as farming failed them, could directly observe the Inuit successfully fishing in kayaks, yet the Norse, no strangers to water, did not take up fishing. Diamond doesn't duck the obvious question, why? As mentioned, we are still here and from the grocery store shelves appear to be doing fine, yet a host of issues threaten us and Diamond goes into detail on each. He speaks of himself as a cautious optimist. This book was written in 2006, 12 years ago (2018), so I thought I would investigate some of the issues Diamond mentions to see if things have improved, if measures are being taken to prevent our own planet-wide collapse. From coral bleaching, world population increase, soil erosion and salinization, ground water depletion, deforestation and on through to CO2 reduction to address global warming I found little ground for optimism; all of these problems continue to increase driven by human demand. We may not pull through despite knowing what is happening, but we definitely won't if we are ignorant, as is the American president. Collapse addresses that ignorance. It speaks to Santayana's warning that those who can't remember the past (ignorant of it) are doomed to repeat it. There were enough different independent societies at one time to allow for a failure here and there. We can't afford failure now.

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