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Collapse by Jared Diamond


How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond

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Title Details

Abridged Edition
Running Time
9 Hrs 34 Min.
User Rating
  3.5  Stars Based on 4 ratings


In his million-copy best seller 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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Reviews & Ratings
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Reviewer Donald
 February 17, 2006
This Text Refers to the Hard Cover Edition:

I've always been fascinated by ghost towns, civilizations that have disappeared and ways of life that have vanished. Naturally, Collapsed appealed to that part of my interests. I was pleased to find convenient summaries of the latest research on what happened to Easter Island, the Norse on Greenland, the Mayas, and many other interesting cultures around the world that failed to survive until today. A pleasant bonus in the book was to find out about many cutting edge scientific methods used to sort out what happened and when in past civilizations.

Collapse also looks at some of the current problem areas of the world using the lens of what went wrong in earlier societies. The materials on Australia and Rwanda were particularly well done and added to my knowledge of those countries.

If the book had stopped there, I would have graded it as a five star effort.

The book continued, however, and falls into mediocrity when it starts to look at today's world and what needs to be done. The only strong section within this part of the book came in the discussion of efforts by large companies to make "good citizenship" profitable by both avoiding more costly remediation later and being more attractive to customers in the meantime.

The rest of the book is an oversimplified argument that extrapolates trends in areas that harmed former civilizations (like deforestation) into presenting a dire threat for our collective future today. To make that argument stick, you have to look deeply at the countertrends that can offset the potential harm from the trends. Collapse briefly acknowledges some of those trends, but doesn't get below the surface.

My own reaction to the book is that in today's increasingly specialized, global economy (remember Adam Smith in his book, The Wealth of Nations?) each country will do fewer things for itself and rely more on its fellow humans who can do other things better. Many of the contemporary issues raised in this book can be seen in that light rather than as civilization threatening. I don't know which view is correct (or if both are), but Collapse doesn't really add much to the argument for either side.

Donald Mitchell

More Details

  • Published: 2004
  • LearnOutLoud.com Product ID: C004891
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