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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition [Paperback]

Jared Diamond
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 4 2011
In Jared Diamond’s follow-up to the Pulitzer-Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel, the author explores how climate change, the population explosion and political discord create the conditions for the collapse of civilization

Environmental damage, climate change, globalization, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of societies around the world, but some found solutions and persisted. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe, and weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Collapse moves 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. 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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Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is the glass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns, Germs, and Steel explained the geographic and environmental reasons why some human populations have flourished, Collapse uses the same factors to examine why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart. Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an eco-meltdown is often the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined with society's response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster. Still, right from the outset of Collapse, the author makes clear that this is not a mere environmentalist's diatribe. He begins by setting the book's main question in the small communities of present-day Montana as they face a decline in living standards and a depletion of natural resources. Once-vital mines now leak toxins into the soil, while prion diseases infect some deer and elk and older hydroelectric dams have become decrepit. On all these issues, and particularly with the hot-button topic of logging and wildfires, Diamond writes with equanimity.

Because he's addressing such significant issues within a vast span of time, Diamond can occasionally speak too briefly and assume too much, and at times his shorthand remarks may cause careful readers to raise an eyebrow. But in general, Diamond provides fine and well-reasoned historical examples, making the case that many times, economic and environmental concerns are one and the same. With Collapse, Diamond hopes to jog our collective memory to keep us from falling for false analogies or forgetting prior experiences, and thereby save us from potential devastations to come. While it might seem a stretch to use medieval Greenland and the Maya to convince a skeptic about the seriousness of global warming, it's exactly this type of cross-referencing that makes Collapse so compelling. --Jennifer Buckendorff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his Pulitzer Prize–winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, geographer Diamond laid out a grand view of the organic roots of human civilizations in flora, fauna, climate and geology. That vision takes on apocalyptic overtones in this fascinating comparative study of societies that have, sometimes fatally, undermined their own ecological foundations. Diamond examines storied examples of human economic and social collapse, and even extinction, including Easter Island, classical Mayan civilization and the Greenland Norse. He explores patterns of population growth, overfarming, overgrazing and overhunting, often abetted by drought, cold, rigid social mores and warfare, that lead inexorably to vicious circles of deforestation, erosion and starvation prompted by the disappearance of plant and animal food sources. Extending his treatment to contemporary environmental trouble spots, from Montana to China to Australia, he finds today's global, technologically advanced civilization very far from solving the problems that plagued primitive, isolated communities in the remote past. At times Diamond comes close to a counsel of despair when contemplating the environmental havoc engulfing our rapidly industrializing planet, but he holds out hope at examples of sustainability from highland New Guinea's age-old but highly diverse and efficient agriculture to Japan's rigorous program of forest protection and, less convincingly, in recent green consumerism initiatives. Diamond is a brilliant expositor of everything from anthropology to zoology, providing a lucid background of scientific lore to support a stimulating, incisive historical account of these many declines and falls. Readers will find his book an enthralling, and disturbing, reminder of the indissoluble links that bind humans to nature. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is a good book if you don't already realize that we're screwing ourselves as a species. If this describes you, then read this book. It is methodical, it makes a strong case, and it doesn't degenerate into rhetoric like lots of environmentally themed books. Diamond does not present an Ehrlich-like appocalypitic certainty-he is generous enough, and confident enough in human beings' resourcefullness, to give us even odds. This is nice, because, while I do believe we're hooped if we don't change, I do believe we CAN change, and alot of popular books on this subject always just tell us we're done like dinner.
For fans of Guns, Germs and Steel, don't expect this book to be anywhere near as good. If you are an environmentally-minded person and have done some reading on the subject, don't expect to take a whole lot of new, relevant, information from this book. It is pretty damn boring. By making his case methodically, step-by-step, Diamond bored me to tears (especially in the early going). It is important that he makes his case in this manner, to close the loop-holes for lunatic right-wing economists, but from a literary point of view it is a terrible read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately, disappointing Dec 25 2009
Format:Paperback
I first heard about this book by hearing someone say that it was "genius." It's certainly not, but it's worth a read anyway... at least the first 3/4.

I'm not overly interested in environmentalism -- I read this book primarily for the narratives and analyses of the ancient and recent societies that collapsed. The book is, after all, called "Collapse."

Collapse starts off very strongly. It gives a nice description of what constitutes a collapse and explains how history should be studied like a science. His intro chapter on Montana basically sets the tone for the next 13 chapters of the book, which are interesting for the most part, although sometimes redundant. His analyses of past and modern societies are insightful and exhibit a comprehensive knowledge of history... too bad he didn't stop there.

The last section is called "Pracical Lessons." After reading the previous chapters, I was pretty pumped for this part, as Diamond is obviously a vary smart man (not that his biases don't show at times). Unfortunately, without the use of a storyline to present his thoughts, as in the previous chapters, his writing derails and becomes extremely dry... almost unbearable to read. I reduced myself to generous skimming because he really presents nothing new; the average reader should be smart enought to extend what he was saying in the historical examples to modern society.

Thus, I'm not sure that I would reccommend this book. If it's history you're looking for, there are better books, and I'm sure the same goes if you're looking for a book on environmental issues. The book really doesn't work well as a hybrid; the last section doesn't flow with the first three. I would suggest reading only a few chapters...
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is so important Jan. 3 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a wealth of information. It is a long read but gripped me through the entire journey because of implications it has to our own nations and planet. Well worth it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Analysis Dec 20 2013
By MRMLEM
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by my financial analyst. Jared Diamond does a thorough job of looking at a complex subject and breaking it down into clear, objective measurements. My background is technical; my wife is a linguist and we both enjoyed and appreciated the book. We recommend it to anyone who thinks about processes in society.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting View on Society Oct. 29 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed reading about the other parts of the world and how they have evolved. Enlightening to say the least. The things they don't teach you in school.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A re-read and glad I did. April 2 2013
By bookweasel TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book when first published then passed it on to a friend. I was very glad I choose to read it again. Diamond studies modern Montana and several older societies to resolve the title. The resolution is basically the folly and lack of diligence of man and it is most interesting to see how this comes about. A provoking book and a must read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Do We Have A Future? July 13 2012
By Dave_42 TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Survive" by Jared Diamond is the follow-up to his excellent "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". Published in 2005, after an eight year gap, Diamond discusses how this book is using the same comparative method to understanding the end of societies, that the previous work applied to the creation of societies.

While I didn't find this book as absorbing as his previous work, there is still a lot to recommend "Collapse" to readers who are interested in history, sociology, or various other areas of humanities. Diamond puts forward the idea that the causes of societal collapse in the past have been attributed to one or more of eight factors: ("deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people." To these he adds four more as dangers to modern societies. These include: "human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity." While it is easy to agree with these, it doesn't have to be human-caused for climate change to have a negative impact on a society.

The book is divided into four parts, the first being a relatively short discussion of the environment in Montana, chosen because of Diamond's personal experience with the area, as discussed in this section. As he does throughout the rest of the book, he discusses which of the twelve factors he are potential problems for that area of the country.

Part two covers past societies which have "collapsed".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, reliable Canada Post
The good thing about ordering from other companies on Amazon.ca is that usually the book is cheaper, and best of all it is delivered using regular mail. Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2012 by Julie Ann David
5.0 out of 5 stars Jared Diamond should rule the world
If you'd like to understand why our societies are currently experiencing such crisis, read this book. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2012 by David Sabine
4.0 out of 5 stars Collapse - Jared Diamond
Well researched, well written. Profound knowledge of history and sociology. Great comparison between peoples and civilizations. Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2011 by Raul Carreras
4.0 out of 5 stars No Sequel to Guns Germs and Steel Here; A Genuine and Relevant History...
Although the book's title engendered in my expectant mind stories of dramatic military or social collapse ultimately a result of human mis-deeds, once again (as in Guns, Germs and... Read more
Published on June 8 2010 by Trevor G. Stack
4.0 out of 5 stars Measured Warning
It was a pleasant surprise that Collapse was not as depressing as I thought it could be. Despite its gloomy subject matter, Jared Diamond's sober and lucid analysis is more... Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2007 by ginger snaps
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting BUT Repetitive
The book gives you a good explanation and goes into several factors why a society could and does collapse. Read more
Published on July 26 2007 by K. Heiss
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Tours of Changing Environments, but leaves out the Middle...
"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. Read more
Published on April 29 2007 by Brian Griffith
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