Crisis and change : how people and nations cope with crises through selective change

by Jared Diamond

Hardcover, 2019




New York, NY : Little, Brown and Co., 2019.


In his landmark international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steeland Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now in the third book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crisis. Diamond shows us how seven countries have survived defining upheavals in the recent past - from the forced opening up of Japan and the Soviet invasion of Finland to the Pinochet regime in Chile - through selective change, a process of painful self-appraisal and adaptation more commonly associated with personal trauma. Looking ahead to the future, he investigates whether the United States, and the world, are squandering their natural advantages and are on a devastating path towards catastrophe. Is this fate inevitable? Or can we still learn from the lessons of the past? Exhibiting the awe-inspiring grasp of history, geography, economics and anthropology that marks all Diamond's work, Upheaval reveals how both nations and individuals can become more resilient. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal yet.… (more)

Media reviews

Jared Diamond is back, now with the final installment of what his publisher describes as his “monumental trilogy.” Where Collapse explored places that failed, the new volume, Upheaval, asks about those that survived. It takes Diamond far from the sorts of societies where he’s felt most alive: the closed-off tribes, the “Stone Age” peoples. Upheaval examines such large countries as the United States, Finland, Japan, and Chile, and mainly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Through them, Diamond hopes to show how nations have made it through destabilizing crises. But what we see instead is how poorly suited his approach—honed on nonindustrial and isolated societies—is for large, connected ones in an age of globalization.
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Sometimes the book feels written from a drying well of lifelong research rather than from the latest facts. For example, Diamond tells us Americans have always been a highly mobile people and are “unlikely” to “move less often.” He must be unfamiliar with the rather well-publicized new data declaring the opposite: “Fewer Americans Are Moving to Pursue Better Jobs Across the Nation,” NPR says, citing the Census Bureau’s research that the number of Americans who move in a given year has dropped by half since the 1940s. There are far more of these errors than I have space to list, too many to dismiss this calling-out as nit-picking. And they matter because of the book’s nature. If we can’t trust you on the little and medium things, how can we trust you where authors of 30,000-foot books really need our trust — on the big, hard-to-check claims?

User reviews

LibraryThing member DavidWineberg
Diamond in the Rough

Albert Einstein spent the last half of his life trying to fit the universe into one elegant formula. He did not succeed. Jared Diamond is trying to do the same with national political crises in Upheaval. He has developed a list of 12 factors that show up in times of crisis at the nation level. The degree to which the nation deals with those factors (if at all) determines how successful it will likely be in dealing with it.

The book exists at three levels: the individual, the nation and the world. The factors relating to their crises can be quite similar. The bulk of the book is on seven countries Diamond has had relationships with, having lived and/or worked in them. They are Indonesia, Japan, Germany, USA, Australia, Chile and Finland. They’re all different, and they all handled their crises differently. Some are still in crisis.

A crisis is a serious challenge that cannot be solved by existing methods of coping, Diamond says. The examples include foreign invasion, internal revolution, evolving past previous bad policy, externalizing problems, and denial of problems.

As for the US, Diamond sees it entering a crisis of identity and survival, riven by self-centered Americans who only care about themselves and today – right up to the top. Perspective, reflection and especially co-operation and compromise are absent from this crisis.

These are Diamond’s 12 factors for national crises:
1. National consensus that one’s nation is in crisis
2. Acceptance of national responsibility to do something
3. Building fence, to delineate the national problems needing to be solved
4. Getting material and financial help from other nations
5. Using other nations as models of how to solve the problems
6. National identity
7. Honest national self-appraisal
8. Historical experience of previous national crises
9. Dealing with national failure
10. Situation-specific national flexibility
11. National core values
12. Freedom from geopolitical constraints

The Chinese word weiji means crisis. It component characters are wei for danger and ji for opportunity. As in many clouds have silver linings. The example he gives first is Finland’s stunningly rapid industrialization when faced with $300M in war reparations after negotiating peace with the invading Soviet Union. Finland only had four million people at the time.

Things get dicier at the global level. Looking forward to potential crises like nuclear winter and climate change, Diamond’s model shows the nations of the world, and in particular the USA, are not set, ready or equipped to make the efforts the model stipulates to come out the other side of the crisis decently.

The structure of the book is standardized: a lot of history, some insight from personal relationships, and how the historical crisis fits the parameters Diamond set out. Mostly, it’s a lot of international history; interesting, and probably new to most readers. By far the best chapter is the epilogue, where he tackles the real issues: do national leaders make a difference in crises, and do nations need a crisis to act, or can they anticipate. The answers are sometimes to all the questions.

Diamond has created an interesting matrix for future study, but its application to the real world remains a question mark. It was a good exercise, but of indeterminate value.

David Wineberg
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Starting with an analogy to individual crisis, Diamond argues that 12 factors determine how a nation responds to a crisis (mostly successfully; even the authoritarian coups he covers have their good sides, he thinks, especially since it’s unknowable whether you could’ve gotten the good—market-based economic reforms—without the bad, which does not seem like a reason to read history). The book did not cohere very well, but if you want capsule histories of big events in Chile, Japan, Indonesia, Finland, Germany, and Australia, and an overview of global warming and other challenges facing the US/the world, then I guess you could read this.… (more)
LibraryThing member annbury
This is an interesting book, combining concise and insightful historical essays with an effort to approach a general theory of how nations deal with crisis. It is not, however, another "Guns, Germs, and Steel", Mr. Diamond's 1997 masterpiece. It is probably unfair to expect that it would be; one great book is more than most writers can dream of. But the comparison is unavoidable, and it is not flattering to "Upheaval". The first part of the book, dealing with crises in six countries (Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, and Australia) is informative and interesting. Mr. Diamond's discussion of the current situation in the US is less so, because it is so familiar. But the next part of the book, in which Mr. Diamond attempts to apply a psychological framework based on individuals in crisis to these various national crisis, was far less satisfying. I had the feeling that individual countries' experiences had been jammed into a checklist that did not, at the end of it all, tell me very much. Also, the lack of more than peripheral discussion of countries where crisis was NOT surmounted seems to me a weakness. Mr. Diamond explicitly acknowledges that he is working towards an approach to analyzing nations' experience, and that much of what he has done is intended to point the way for other studies. All in all, an interesting read, but not a compelling book… (more)
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
Mr. diamond does get around, and in this book he is telling us about seven examples of countries and how they cope with large stresses. His analogies are drawn to the psychological stages and strategies of humans in the face of crises. The terms are slightly different than the Arnold Toynbee approach, but they are similar. Not much in the way of maps, but his approach is not heavily visual, but argumentative. The effort is thoughtful, and there are some short snappers to be thrown into arguments. A pleasant read.… (more)
LibraryThing member waltser1
For a select few nations the author lived in, he reviews crises that nation endured and how they responded and worked their way through threw them. He initially defined signs of crises.
LibraryThing member Steve_Walker
Excellent presentation on how nation states have come to deal with upheavals. This, as with his previous books, requires careful and thoughtful reading. The reader will not be disappointed.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair reading and review.
LibraryThing member Cstrickl
Too long winded.
LibraryThing member deusvitae
A well researched and well written exploration into considering how nations come to grips with crises and adapt.

The author uses personal crises and the way in which individuals manage them and seeks to see whether a similar process may play out with nations. He explores, in depth, nations which underwent crisis and which he has some level of personal experience - Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany and Australia. He then considers the present challenges for Japan, the United States, and the world in general; he concludes with his conclusions, questions, and how it looks for the future.

The biggest challenge of the work is the cosmopolitan nature of the author and how he takes for granted most of the premises of cosmopolitanism. Such is not to say that he is wrong or anything of that sort; it just means that the work is unlikely to persuade a lot of people. Those who will agree will already share the general predisposition of the author; those who tend to be more nationalist or have skepticism about cosmopolitanism will not have their worldview sufficiently challenged by the portrayal of the author.

A fascinating deep dive into the modern history of the countries discussed, and an interesting way forward to consider when it comes to nations and crises.
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