How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Book - 2011
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"A magisterial effort packed with insight and written with clarity and enthusiasm. It's also the deal of the year--the equivalent of a year's college course by an engaging, brilliant professor, all for the price of a book." --
Who Hasn't Gazed upon the abandoned temples of Angkor Wat or the jungle-choked cities of the Maya and wondered, could the same fate happen to us? In this riveting book, Jared Diamond--whose Guns, Germs, and Steel revolutionized our understanding of history--explores how humankind's use and abuse of the environment reveal the truth behind the world's great collapses, from the Anasazi of North America to the Vikings of Greenland to modern Montana. What emerges is a fundamental pattern of environmental catastrophe--one whose warning signs surround us today and that we ignore at our peril. Blending the most recent scientific advances and a vast historical perspective into a narrative that is impossible to put down, Collapse exposes the deepest mysteries of the past even as it offers hope for the future. --
"Diamond's most influential gift may be his ability to write about geopolitical and environmental systems in ways that don't just educate and provoke, but entertain." --
"Extremely persuasive ... replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics." --
"Essential reading ... Collapse [shows] that resilient societies are nimble ones, capable of long-term planning and of abandoning deeply entrenched but ultimately destructive core values and beliefs." --
"There are hopeful messages in Collapse. With Diamond's help, maybe we'll learn to see our problems a little more clearly before we chop down that last palm tree." --
"Extraordinarily panoramic ...Diamond's complex historical web of how human communities either master their environment or become victims of them ... takes a lifetime of research and, in normal English, leads the reader painstakingly where the media and intellectual journals have often refused to go." --Book Jacket.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780143117001
Branch Call Number: 304.28 D5417C 2011
Characteristics: xii, 589 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

A study of the downfall of some of history's greatest civilizations discusses the Anasazi, the Maya, and the Viking colony on Greenland, tracing patterns of environmental damage, poor political choices, and other factors in their demise. See also Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, and Guns, Germs an... Read More »

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Nov 05, 2019

Unlike the common socioeconomic approach, the author examines history from the perspective of environment. Quite a refreshing approach! Learned a lot about lost civilizations.

Dec 13, 2018

A fascinating book! I've put several of his references on my "For Later" list. The use of "Choose" in the title seemed strange, but Diamond supports it fully. One could hope that the current crop of leaders in America, who believe in capitalizing gains and socializing losses, and who seem to be dismissive of science, might read this book and take a lesson from it. But they will not be alive when the piper needs to be paid, and they have little interest in generations to follow. No interest in the product, only in the next quarter's bottom line.
Amendment. I borrowed Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” the most frequently referenced of Diamond’s sources, through Mobius, hence no individual review. Tainter starts by citing some reasonably well-known examples of collapses, goes on to describe what he means when labeling any society “complex,” and then lists eleven theories frequently presented to explain collapse. His goal is “to understand collapse as a general phenomenon, to gain an understanding not limited to specific cases, but applicable across time, space, and type of society.” He discusses each theory, assesses the value of each to his goal, and finds each lacking (some decidedly more lacking than others). In the concluding sections of the book, he argues that only relatively isolated societies can collapse without global consequences. The chilling corollary to this is that in our highly interconnected world, collapse of any modern state could lead to global collapse. His definition of collapse does not imply that we will all go back to living in caves, but loss of complexity has significant meaning in Tainter’s theory.

Mar 12, 2018

For an academic, Diamond has a very readable writing style. For anyone looking to understand his thesis, it is restated in various places within the book. The examples/case studies that he uses are fascinating. I think that the book is worth a read all the way through, as each example is captivating. If you do not want to commit to the entire book, however, just a pick a chapter or two that seem interesting; you'll get the points he's making.

Jan 23, 2018

A learned author writing in a readable manner offers many good insights into issues confronting our world society. He is apparently a moderate, stating a good point about the need for business and environmental need to be balanced and the role of the citizen in this (p. 484). GT

Jul 27, 2017

People take the original research work of others [Joseph Tainter's brilliant research, in Diamond's case], then write it according to The Establishment Rules, and win those useless Pulitzer prizes [everyone appears to be unfamilair with Pulitzer's background, 'natch!], and then Diamond is in the same rarefied company of George Will and Stephen Hunter [/sarc].
Same occurred with Paul Krugman, who took someone else's original research, then put forth some submediocre position, and wins that Swedish Central Bank Prize in Economics, always incorrectly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics - - but neither the Nobel family nor Nobel Foundation has anything to do with this crud????

Feb 27, 2013

The author offers a readable chronicle of ancient and modern societies that have failed or overcome challenges. Most chapters end with hints on how its lessons might guide us today. In the final chapter he summarizes twelve factors that govern the success or failure of cultures. I felt that this wrap-up was weak - otherwise why did he feel the need to write the 5-page "what I can do" section at the back of the endnotes? Finally, I found it shocking that Diamond approves of locally "environment-friendly" fossil fuel extraction but appears to overlook the greenhouse gas emissions that have global survival implications! Puzzling. This long-winded, 550-page book needed a good copy editor to pare it down to 300-pages.

Aug 07, 2012

The third of the trilogy that also comprises "The Third Chimpanzee" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (and the best one of three extraordinary books, in my opinion); racy style, as in all of Diamond's writing, that allows you to read sophisticated science like a thriller - and learn everything you need to know about the world at the same time!

Dec 30, 2011


Mar 26, 2011

Environment is the root of all problems... short on ideas on how to solve them. Usual complaints (to many people, not enough consideration of the environment)

Good history and analysis of societies that have failed and environment was a contributing factor (Jared claims it was a source for all failures, not just a contributing factor).
Left me with a "so what" after finishing.

Oct 20, 2008

the big picture stuff


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