Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed

by Jared M. Diamond

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Viking, 2005.

Description

"In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 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, 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 historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the prehistoric Polynesian culture on Easter Island to the formerly flourishing Native American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya, the doomed medieval Viking colony on Greenland, and finally to the modern world, Diamond traces a fundamental pattern of catastrophe, spelling out what happens when we squander our resources, when we ignore the signals our environment gives us, and when we reproduce too fast or cut down too many trees. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, unstable trade partners, and pressure from enemies were all factors in the demise of the doomed societies, but other societies found solutions to those same problems and persisted."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

Taken together, ''Guns, Germs, and Steel'' and ''Collapse'' represent one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual of our generation. They are magnificent books: extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in their ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the far past. I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wrote so clearly and formed arguments with such care. All of which makes the two books exasperating, because both come to conclusions that are probably wrong.
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Mr. Diamond -- who has academic training in physiology, geography and evolutionary biology -- is a lucid writer with an ability to make arcane scientific concepts readily accessible to the lay reader, and his case studies of failed cultures are never less than compelling.
Human behaviour towards the ecosphere has become dysfunctional and now arguably threatens our own long-term security. The real problem is that the modern world remains in the sway of a dangerously illusory cultural myth. Like Lomborg, most governments and international agencies seem to believe that the human enterprise is somehow 'decoupling' from the environment, and so is poised for unlimited expansion. Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse, confronts this contradiction head-on. It is essential reading for anyone who is unafraid to be disillusioned if it means they can walk into the future with their eyes open.
Diamond is at pains to stress the objectivity he has brought to bear on a sequence of collapse scenarios that often continue to generate serious controversy, and for the most part (until the final chapter) leaves it up to the reader to draw down any conclusions from these scenarios that may be relevant to our own societies today.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Capfox
I very much liked this; it was quite thought-provoking, and gives a lot of details without getting bogged down. The main premise is that the response of a society to the environmental problems it causes is the decisive factor determining their ability to survive in the long run. Of course, there are other causes that also lend themselves to collapses, which Diamond also explores, but he keeps coming back to the theme of environmental damage and response to said damage.

The majority of the book is taken up with case studies of different societies, ranging from ancient times (Easter Island, Pitcairn, Greenland, etc.) to modern (Rwanda, Australia, Montana, etc.). Most are used to look at some facet of the problem, and also at the environmental issues involved. These really could have gotten tedious, and there are a couple of points towards the end where you feel like there's a refrain. "Oh, deforestation... depletion of habitats... population impact... yeah... mhmm... sing it, Jared..."

Still, there's something to it, and the sections at the end about why societies might make choices that are in hindsight disasterous are very interesting. Like most environmental books, I finish them, and feel like I should be doing more, but there's not tons more that I could be doing. I'll try something, though. One main thing at the end that he points out is that with the advent of globalization, we have to solve all of these problems everywhere, since societies are in no real sense isolated in their collapses anymore. Sending environmental problems somewhere else might not have repercussions in the immediate future, but he predicts it'll come back to bite the First World in the end. Still, if he's cautiously optimistic, I don't see why I shouldn't be.

Anyway, I can give this one a recommendation; it's a different sort of book from Guns, Germs and Steel, but it's still very interesting, and has a similar scope.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Diamond argues that environmentally `our world is presently on a non-sustainable course', and gives plenty of proof from the histories of the past and present societies to support it. Still, it's not a `doom and gloom' book. It is a book with a very strong caution in it. We still have a choice.

To prove his point Diamond undertakes a brilliant comparative study of some civilizations of the past which became extinct: Easter Island, Norse Greenland, Maya and Anasazi civilizations and puts them side by side with the contemporary global society. He examines patterns in human's interaction with their environment such as: the
conversion of forestland into farming land causing irreversible damage; over-hunting and over-fishing; ignoring the warning signs of
environmental and ecological damage; and the inability to change beliefs as leading to starvation and collapse. Then he examines a
few trouble spots in the contemporary world, and comes to the conclusion that we are on the same course as the civilizations which went extinct in the past, except this time on a global scale.

We still have a choice. We can learn from Japan and Germany how to save our forests, or from Papua New Guinea how to live a sustainable life. We can also show our preferences through buying ecologically sound products and organically grown food.

There has been criticism of the book (I believe it was The New York Times reviewer who said that) that in his societal collapse theory he does not deal with the social and political factors. I did not find that true. There is plenty of consideration given to the social and political factors when Diamond examines contemporary societies like Rwanda, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and China. Also, for the past societies he examines the cases: "societal collapses involving an environmental component, and in some cases also contributions of climate change, hostile neighbours, and trade partners, plus questions of societal responses." (P. 15)
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LibraryThing member gcorrell
"Collapse" is about human societies' ability -- or failure -- to recognize, engage with, and avoid catastrophic failure. The author focuses on resource and environmental failure in particular.

You will be hearing a lot about this book. Jared Diamond has been compared to Darwin. His previous Pultzer-winning book, "Guns, Germs and Steel", debunked racial explanations for cultural success, and was deemed one of the most important scientific works ever written. His works are strikingly original, carefully researched, and free of polemic. An antidote to both the know-nothing corporate boosterism and denial on the right, and the wishful thinking and anti-science of the left, his ideas are criticized/lauded by both sides.

In "Collapse", success or failure as a society depends primarily on its management of resources. To analyze historic and modern societies, Diamond establishes 5 criteria: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners (any of which can be significant), and a society's response to environmental problems (always significant).

Diamond writes for an educated general audience. He is a superb guide for his world tour, tracking the fates of Montana, Easter Island, Greenland, New Guinea, Japan, the Anasazi and more, applying his five criteria to explain failure and success. Stories unfold of unappreciated success (prehistoric New Guinea's invention of silviculture), societal self-transformation (Japan has reforested over 70% of their islands), and brute force success (China's enforced family planning achieved an enviable 1.3% population growth).

It is also the most coldly sobering book on the environment ever written. China is a train wreck, environmentally. Average blood lead levels exceed western limits for developmental impairment, they have a small fraction of their viable agricultural land left, they will have plowed under their largest wetland within a decade, and their seacoast fisheries are nearly gone from siltification and pesticide buildup. There is little hope for change.

Australia, facing similar agricultural failures, is making headway but slowly, inconsistently. Salinification (salting) of soils will take 500 years to self-repair if they stop certain practices now. They haven't.

Every society has the resources it was dealt, geographically, and natural weakness (poor soil, slow tree growth, inadequate water, etc.). Diamond demonstrates that similar societies meet different fates -- or not -- based on their willingness to adapt, or their hubris in refusing to do so. All societies have in common, however, a certainty that they are doing enough. Diamond gives us the means to test that optimism.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Collapse is an ambitious book in which Jared Diamond analyzes the causes of the collapse of several ancient and not so ancient identifiable societies. It is also a cautionary tale for the modern developed “first” world in that this is the story of the consequences of environmental degradation in the form of deforestation, pollution, over-fishing, introduction of alien species, and other man-caused insults to our habitat. To be fair, he also identifies causes beyond the control of man, such as prolonged droughts. But a theme he repeats is that the response societies make to such environmental challenges is determinative of their fates.

Diamond’s most forceful writing is directed toward the “non-sustainable course” on which he believes the current globalized society is going. Even if over population can be limited, he argues that the environment could not support the increase in energy and natural resource usage that would occur if suddenly the living standards of the third world or even just China rose to those of the United States.

The book contains a lot of good history, written from a unique perspective. It is well-argued, if just a bit dry. It contains important lessons for national leaders and planners.

(JAB)
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LibraryThing member imyril
An examination of ancient and modern societies that have undergone sudden collapse, and an evaluation of the environmental context in terms of population size, impact and sustainability. Diamond argues that he doesn't believe in environmental determinism - it's not geography or climate change that he believes knocked any of these societies over - it's our responses (or lack of them) when things start to go wrong. This is crucial as our modern population growth and environmental impact are accelerating.

My main issue with the book is length. It would have benefited from fewer case studies and less repetition. Ultimately, there wasn't enough differentiation between the issues within case studies, so this felt like retreading the same ground. Add in repetition within chapters - while this isn't a consistent problem, but is sporadically a big problem (I'm going to tell you about X; now I'll tell you about X in detail; having told you about X...) - and poor structure in others, and you have a recipe for intermittent boredom, which was almost enough for me to give up completely.

Which is a shame, because in between are chapters that are fascinating, horrifying, thought-provoking and interesting. I think a damn good edit could have improved the whole thing, packaged it up a bit better, and actually made the message stronger rather than weaker. I can't recommend it as it stands unless you're interested with a strong stomach; an abridged version should probably be required reading for everyone.
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LibraryThing member stacey2112
This is a painstakingly researched, extremely thorough examination of how environmental challenges, and the way different societies handled these, either brought about an eventual collapse or were overcome and the society able to continue. The book is roughly seperated into a first half dealing with past societies, and a second half with modern ones, with some overlap, such as Diamond's beginning the book with a look at a small slice of modern-day Montana.
The "past" portion of the book covers such societies as the Anasazi, the Mayans, and certain Viking settlements. I found this half of the book riveting- the filter of ages past allows a more linear narrative- this happened, then this, due to X Y Z- as well as an amount of emotional detatchment that allows the reader to take these in as cautionary tales, sad ones to be sure, but not with a frightening immediacy. And of course, some of the societies DO succeed, often through creative and ingenious methods, providing some relief from the pathos of famine and wars.
The second "half" of the book is a tougher read. These examples are happening today, and the problems these societies face, when laid down cold hard fact style in print- pretty overwhelming! Australia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and China are a few of the societies examined. Again, fascinating information and a LOT of it - I learned SO much from this book! -but much more difficult to take without getting slightly hopeless or giving up & deciding that the Human race is a scourge upon the earth and hoping for it's demise sooner than later! There are "hopeful" examples of stewardship here, as well, but we don't have the luxury of knowing whether they will succeed in the long run, and frankly sometimes they seem like a drop in the bucket.
The final section of the book is titled "Practical Lessons" and attempts to determine why societies make decisions that allow a collapse. Again, very well researched and thought out, with a mix of deadly depressing and slightly hopeful examples, plus a few suggestions on how one might go about influencing positive change. My book edition (2011) also included an "Afterword" about the rise and fall of the ancient city of Angkor, really interesting stuff so make sure you get the second edition!
The best part of the book for me was Diamond's writing style and even-handedness. He is able to present page after page of intensively detailed facts without coming off as dry and boring, everything is brilliantly organized and presented. He presents information without passing judgment or pulling punches when such observations will be unpopular. One of my favourite quotes comes while discussing the environmentalist dictator (!) Balaguer: "The struggle to understand Balaguer reminds me that history, as well as life itself, is complicated; neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency. ". Awesomeness!
Starry-eyed idealists will probably abhor this book, fling it across the room and cry "Pessimistic Bastard"-but he does devote a good several pages to debunking "one-liner" objections to what they might consider his alarmist views on environmental problems, should they care to read on. Hard-nosed realists (whom no doubt some would call "pessimists") like myself MAY be in danger of becoming irretractable misanthropes, fair warning! Regardless, I think everybody should read this book. Politicians should be forced to read it at gunpoint, then take a test on it at gunpoint untill they get a passing grade. Then they should be shot anyway. Hah hah, just kidding (sorta).
If I have one tiny complaint about this book, it's that I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on the population growth side of the equation, though in fairness it is not the focus of the book (environmental impacts), and he does admit briefly, when listing his 12 sets of problems societies face, that "human population growth affects all 11 other problems" (#12 being population growth itself) - though only in passing.
I love this book. I love it so much I'd marry it if I weren't already married to "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. Luckily, that makes a great companion book to this one, so I'll happily continue my torrid affair with "Collapse" & pray to any & all gods that tons of other people will read it!
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LibraryThing member Wprecht
In his followup to Germs, Guns and Steel, Jared Diamond continues the chronicle of man’s struggle to live in a world he has made.

Having read the previous book and not completely agreed with the premises, I expected to struggle with this one somewhat. I wanted to read it because it came highly recommended and because I have this quest to have something topical to talk about when I am not among the geeks that are my normal associates.

In fact, it was a good read. It took me a while because it’s pretty dense going. I don’t have a lot of time for recreational reading, so I didn’t spend time doing a lot of fact checking on this one so I can’t comment on it’s accuracy other than it rung a lot more true than his previous book.

Diamond starts out with the assertion that while it’s difficult to directly compare one culture and it’s situation to another, there are some basic characteristics in the way a culture operates that we can use. He went through history and rated every culture against these 9 factors and claims they validate his thesis that it’s possible to predict the success or failure based on these factors and how a society copes with them.

To illustrate this, he presents case studies of nearly a dozen cultures, some who have collapsed, some who have succeeded and other about which time will tell. It’s useful to note Diamond’s definition of “collapse” here: the society ceased to function, the political entity generally vanished and there was a dramatic (at least 50%, usually 90-100%) drop in the population. So the fall of the Soviet empire, for instance, wouldn’t qualify here. Things changed, but it’s mostly the same too. There was a change in government but not a huge change in living conditions. The collapse of the Mayan’s however, does qualify. More than 90% of the people disappeared within a decade or two and the culture ceased to exist.

The first case study is the Bitterroot valley region of Western Montana. It’s an area the author has visited many times over the past few decades and one faces with more environmental challenges than one might expect. Actually, it also serves to point out the struggle between what is good in the short term of the local inhabitants versus the good of the greater society (economically, typically). And how things like farming or mining subsidies are pretty murky territory.

The book goes on through some of the usual suspects of failure (Easter Islanders, Greenland Norse, Mayans, Pitcairn Islanders). It also has a few success stories (New Guinea, Dominican Republic) and a few one the bubble (Montana, China).

I felt the case studies held up rather well. Again, I didn’t do a lot of fact checking here, but it all sounded pretty good. In this particular book, I think Diamond backed off from making the sort of generalizations and predictions that drew criticism in Germs, Guns and Steel. In fact, the closing chapter has a bit of the feel of, “we need to tact on something uplifting here so my nuts don’t get roasted over the fire again.” And I say that not because the message changes that dramatically (although there is a little of that), but the tone does.

Overall, I give this a 4.5 stars and a strong read recommendation. There is a lot to think about with this one and that’s a good thing.
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LibraryThing member amydelpo
Ugh -- when will Jared Diamond find an editor who tells him to cut, cut, cut? I'm sure there is some wonderful information and insight in this book, but a reader would need a machete to find it.
LibraryThing member RajivC
This is a brilliant book. It is very well laid out. The ideas in the book are so very relevant to our times. The argumentation is very well presented, and very logical indeed. The positions that Jared takes in this book are positions not to be taken lightly. The lessons from the societies that have collapsed are so very relevant to our times.

Yet, the one thing that was missing for me, is the effect of the sudden increase of our global population in the last 150 years, on the stresses that the world's environment must face today. The pressure on the world's resources is so dramatically different from the pressures of all the centuries ago. I am sure that with the seeming decrease in western populations, global migrations etc, the ways in which we will regard the problems of today, be different from the world of 200 years ago.

All in all, a highly recommended book. It is a book to be read slowly, with care. The lessons are to be absorbed, not forgotten when the book is put down.
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LibraryThing member ejp1082
Although Jared Diamond is careful to be objective and take a balanced view, it's impossible not to read this book and draw the parallels between the subject matter and our own civilization. Which makes it deeply relevant, and deeply frightening.

This is one of the few books I'd describe as "Everyone should read".… (more)
LibraryThing member Jared_Runck
I decided a long time ago that the best way for me to maximize my learning was to make a conscious effort to read books that did not simply reinforce my own opinions. You only learn when you encounter difference.

And, every once in a while in the process of escaping your box, you run across someone like Jared Diamond. I must admit, having read Diamond's "Big Three," that I've found him thoroughly engrossing...even when I vehemently disagreed as I did in his analysis of the social uses and accompanying value of religion.

In a sense, this work is probably the most "preachy" of his books; he is very pointed in his analysis of areas where WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) societies have gone amiss. The range of issues addressed is broad: from elder and child-care to social justice to food sourcing and preparation. This breadth gives the book a slight "piece-meal" feeling...as if we may be reading a collection of chapters that were cut from his other two books by a myopic editor. However, it IS cleverly brought together.

So, why would I-a Christian who rejects the theory of atheistic evolution-find so much...well...pleasure in reading Jared Diamond? Well, for one thing, many of his theories about social development are plausible if you simply "unplug" his chronology (e.g. think "thousands of years" when he writes "billions"). But the real reason is Diamond's gift of writing: he thinks clearly within the parameters of his assumptions but is able to express those ideas with astounding simplicity. Few academic writers achieve the clarity that seems so natural in Diamond's work. Even if you don't agree with WHAT he thinks, you must admire HOW he thinks. And how he challenges you to express with equal force your own views.
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LibraryThing member ehines
A real disappointment for me, having loved two of Diamond's previous books. The central idea: that ecological collapse is possible has happened before and may happen to us is important, but Diamond really belabors the point and does not properly account for the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Not nearly as well though-out and presented as I've come to expect from Diamond. Compacted into 100 pages or so, this might have been something.… (more)
LibraryThing member co_coyote
It has taken me nearly four months to read this book. Not because it wasn't interesting, but because I had to read it is small doses to avoid wallowing in pessimistic thoughts of the kind of future we are leaving our children. I was finishing it up last night when my mother invited me over to watch the Planet Earth series on Discovery Channel. There it was confirmed to me that these wonderful sights of animals are almost gone from our world. Nearly every animal they showed was "endangered" or "threatened" or a "remanent population." Diamond himself claims to be "cautiously optimistic" about the Earth's chances of evolving a way to live sustainably without dire consequences. Maybe in my best moments I approach cautiously optimistic. But mostly I fear for what awaits my children. Jane Goodall was in town last week, and I went to her lecture. She, also, professes to have hope for the future. I'm trying hard to get on that bandwagon, because the alternative is just too damn depressing.… (more)
LibraryThing member nog
Gets a bit repetitive. With a good editor I think it could have lost 100 pages without much impact. I'm not keen on that "Choose" in the title -- it seems to me that some of these societies didn't have a lot of alternatives.

Get this book into the hands of all those "cornucopians" who think that a free market can get you out of any looming disaster.… (more)
LibraryThing member blake.rosser
Fascinating account of societal collapse and advice about our own cultural trajectory. If I were an archaeologist or paleontologist, I would have given 5 stars. As it was, it had a little too much technical information for me.
LibraryThing member flippinpages
Interesting subject and sheer determination carried me halfway through this book. In the end boredom got the best of me and I finally gave up halfway through. There are many authors that can take even the most mundane history and make it enjoyable and accessible to everyone. Kurlansky's "Salt" for instance. Unfortunately, for me Mr.Diamond is not one of those authors. So I'm not saying this is a bad book I'm just not sure it's for everyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member hhornblower
This is a book in desperate need of a good editor. It is an interesting study, seemingly repeated ad infinitum throughout each chapter. While I am certain of Mr. Diamond's intelligence and grasp of the subject at hand, his writing style annoyed the hell out me;discussing conversations with "friends" and seemingly presenting them as scientific studies. The only saving grace of this back was the final section where he offers examples of how to correct modern day environmental devastation (though the final chapter reverts to form and is a hell of a slog to get through).… (more)
LibraryThing member scroeser
Diamond makes a convincing argument that many societies collapse because of an inability to manage their environment sustainably. As in 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' he draws on a huge range of times, places, and fields as examples.

This book seems to more explicitly recognise the multiple dimensions involved in the issue than GG&S did.

While it's downright terrifying at times, Diamond is clear that there are causes for optimism and ways to draw on past experience to make a difference.
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LibraryThing member cdogzilla
Fascinating, grim, and hopeful. I have quibbles with Diamond's style at times ... I stopped caring about how much he loved Montana long before he stopped telling me about it. However, I was intrigued throughout; not even pages on soil erosion and forest management could flag my interest.
LibraryThing member jaala
To start off, I'd definitely recommend people give this book a read.

Let me get the bad out of the way. While the length doesn't faze me in of itself, this book could have used a great deal more editing. A number of sentences were mangled, clumsy messes that kicked me right out of the prose. Some of the sections were poorly organized and there were a handful of redundant passages that explicated what had already been explained. Perhaps this book was meant to be devoured in reader fashion rather than straight through so that each individual section stood independently? In any case, some parts are a chore to get through.

That out of the way, it's a fascinating book. Admittedly, it starts off slowly with a lackadaisical run-through of Montana, but then it expands to explore past civilizations in Polynesia and the US Southwest as well as Viking Greenland. Some people may complain about the level of detail Diamond included, but I found it all interesting and relevant. He paints pictures as best he can of these older civilizations so as to humanize them and help us to relate and connect.

That is, after all, what the book is about: a shared humanity and the shared environmental struggles thereof. His description of the past is used to posit an argument regarding the present situation. In all honesty, I thought that was the weakest part of the book. I'm a fairly radical environmentalist, so it's not the message so much as the execution. The lack of editing weighed especially heavy in the last section of the book, and Diamond's foray into Sociology 101 grated for me (I'm a sociology student). After the prolonged care taken in the earlier sections to detail ancient and modern civilizations, the final section wherein Diamond makes an environmental appeal almost feels like an afterthought.

The lack of focus makes me think that this book would have been better as a general overview of collapsed societies without the attempt to tie it all together with a green message.
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LibraryThing member Jewsbury
This is an interesting book relating how certain societies have collapsed quite rapidly and disastrously. It is well researched, holding a mix of many facts and figures. From these Diamond attempts to infer causes for particular disasters, and extract lessons for us today. Of course, there are numerous contributing factors. Diamond focuses on the environmental degradation as a critical contributor. After all, we are entirely dependent on our environment for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

Clearly the examples are selective and the interpretations of events are inferred. Nevertheless some conclusions are obvious. Once a society becomes fragile, many triggers can precipitate the end. The fragility can be directly or indirectly ecological. Not all weakened societies fail; some pull back as the first major damage becomes visible. This message is important because humanity currently faces an unprecedented list of serious environmental problems. We have to avoid that slippery slope to an ignominious end.

I must admit that I didn’t like parts of this book. Despite having lived overseas, his descriptions of other cultures suffer from chronic tunnel vision. Yet despite that drawback, the conclusions are compelling and overall I give the book a tick.
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LibraryThing member jcvogan1
Unlike his earlier book, Guns, Germs and Steel this book tries to paint with a very broad brush but fails. Diamond does an excellent job of describing what happened to several societies that failed but his attempt to draw parrallels to the current debate about climate change is justified by little substance. The result is a book that tells a series of interesting stories but does not shift the debate.… (more)
LibraryThing member Carius
The main idea I've got from the book is nobody is immune to ecological problems. Even if the ruling elite sweeps all the problem during the rugs, sooner or later when the society collapse they can only ensure they will be the last one to starve. It was exceedingly difficult for some societies to avoid collapse because their ruling elites and institution that have worked so well good time fail to thrive during bad time. It will take extreme courage and questioning of society's core value to change for better.… (more)
LibraryThing member Pretear
I picked up this book because Jared Diamond was lecturing at my university. I wanted to attend but I wanted to make sure I had read the book first. Sadly, the brilliant girl at the university box office told me that Jared Diamond was no Zach Braff (who ever that is) so this event was not likely to be sold out. This in turn caused me to set aside my usually neurotic nature for ticket purchases (even for movies, I must arrive 45 minutes early to ensure that I can not only actually purchase tickets but also acquire strategically placed and desirable seating.) In any case, we got there 15 minutes before the lecture and it was COMPLETELY sold out. The videos of the lectures are available online though, if you happen to be interested.

The beginning of Collapse discusses environmental issues in Montana, it reads like a conservationist text. This made me disposed to disliking this book because it brought back bitter memories of a course I took in college. It was History of Environmentalism with a really smarmy pompous jerk of a Professor who made me want to gouge my eyes out for 50 minutes, 3 times a week. It also took me off guard, I was expecting to read a historical analysis of the collapse of otherwise successful societies, not the plight of Montanan farmers, which, at the risk of sounding horribly insensitive and elitist, I could not possibly care less about. (Sorry, my sheltered, untraveled Floridian city life is just too far separated from that for me to have any real appreciation for the problem, I can't even picture it in my mind and I just can't bring myself to care enough to try.) While I can understand that Diamond is using the problems in Montana as a base from which to begin the discussion of his hypothesis that choices based on environmental issues lead to the collapse of societies, I'm still really baffled by his choice of Montana. He recognizes this very flaw himself and says he could have chosen a place like Los Angeles but then he doesn't really provide convincing reasoning for why he didn't choose to do that. I mean, really, why not choose a populous city (which would surely also be more conceptually accessible to the majority of people reading this book)?

The chapter on Easter Island was amazing and undid the damage done by the Chapter on Montana. (I'm sure some of you are asking how I can be interested in the problems faced by Eastern Islanders who are surely more distant to me socially and historically than are modern day Montanans. True. I just happen to like history a lot and, like many other people, I happen to be fascinated by the stone statutes. *shrug*) In any case, Diamond goes through a series of factors that contributed to the decline and ultimate collapse of society on Easter Island. So many factors converged, like the perfect storm, and it made for an incredibly interesting read. I really wish this chapter had been longer, I just didn't want to stop reading.

The chapters on the Anasazi, Pitcairn, the Maya, Norse Greenland, Rwanda, Dominican Republic and Haiti were also fascinating. The brick wall, for me, was the chapter on Australia - once I got to that point in the book, like the chapter on Montana, I just couldn't stir myself to be compelled. However, overall, this is a great book and definitely worth the read.
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LibraryThing member cdagulleiro
Diamond fascinates me with his ability to show different and obscure visions to history and society; bot in germs... and in this one. Nonetheless there is something missing in all his work; the link between the causes and the damage. And the link lies in the Economy, that he seems to avoid talking about. I would love to see a joint work between Jared Diamond and Krugman or Levitt. That book would be awesome.… (more)

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