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The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597260649
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597260640
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,433,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.9 out of 5 stars
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gail Fleeton on March 24 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely outstanding book - passionate, original, and easily accessible. It's far better than Homer-Dixon's The Ingenuity Gap, which was in itself groundbreaking. Homer-Dixon has a striking ability to bring together diverse ideas and research into one larger and compelling theme. He is also one of the few people in the world who really grasps the complexities and dangers of the human predicament in its totality. Many readers won't like this book's argument - that some form of crisis in the future is now extremely likely, that we'd best get ready for it, and that (if we're lucky) it might ultimately produce some good - but after finishing this book I find these conclusions inescapable and largely correct.

The book is rich with new ideas, on practically every page. I do wish the author had given us more on how "open-source" architectures on the Internet could be the basis for new forms of democracy, and for mobilization of non-extremists, but clearly he's just beginning to work through these ideas.

If you want to know about the role of energy scarcity in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the sources of modern capitalism's unchallengeable obsession with economic growth, the causes of people's widespread denial of our global crisis, the relationship between rising complexity and social breakdown, or the real story on global income inequality - the list of subjects covered goes on and on - this book is unmatched. But don't expect that it won't challenge some of your preconceptions. The book is definitely not for intellectual sissies, nor for people whose minds are already made up.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Foss on March 18 2007
Format: Hardcover
Very few writers are capable of integrating interdisciplinary material at this level, while making the resulting book accessible and eminently readable. The Upside of Down is a tremendous accomplishment, and a very timely warning that all is not well with the world.

Homer-Dixon's thesis - catagenesis - is an analysis of natural cycles of growth, decline and renewal as applied to civilizations. The concern at the present time is that we appear to be approaching natural limits on a variety of fronts, and that these tectonic stresses could interact with each other to produce far greater problems for global society than any one issue would by itself.

Homer-Dixon discusses five major tectonic stresses in detail - population growth, energy depletion and declining energy return on energy invested (EROEI), environmental degradation, climate change and financial instability - and also considers the effect of two multipliers - the escalating destructive power of small groups and the rising speed and connectivity of our socioeconomic system. His explanation of the importance of network architecture in relation to our highly interconnected support systems, and the vital role of resilience in network stability, is exceptionally important for an understanding of our current socioeconomic vulnerabilities.

The application of thermodynamics to the formation and longevity of social structures, using the Roman empire as the prime example, is particularly relevant to understanding the challenges facing our own civilization. The many examples Homer-Dixon uses from his own travels serve to illustrate elegantly the points he makes, and indeed connecting the personal with the conceptual is a great strength of this book. It is very highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on Aug. 23 2007
Format: Hardcover
The key question in this book is raised in the very middle: "Why don't we face reality?" A major reason is that we are groping in a fog to learn what that reality is. Homer-Dixon likens our society to a driver careering along a country road in a dense fog. We can barely see what's ahead, but we're somehow confident that no mishap will befall us. We've gotten this far safely. As we drive, we're guided by the mantra of "endless economic growth". We have some idea where we've been, but remain uncertain about what lies ahead. Worse, we don't seem to care. Ignoring the warning signs indicating that all might not be well we continue along our course. In this excellent study of how our society is progressing and where it's likely going, the author clearly outlines the various options before us and what actions we can take to prevent serious disruptions.

The book is a call for preparation. Resilience is what our outlook and our policies should undertake to prevent disasters that we cannot handle. Having observed and reflected on these issues for several years, Homer-Dixon concludes that major difficulties lie ahead. We cannot avoid them - they're already here or loom in the near future. He lists some of the obvious ones: terrorism is now a part of life, climate change beyond our experience is already with us, and economic and social disruption causes have already been pinpointed. His model used as the basis of assessment is the Roman Empire. He cites three examples of what the Empire accomplished, the Colosseum, the road and aqueduct networks and the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek, Lebanon. All these enterprises required immense amounts of energy, yet a society without engineering schools achieved them all successfully. It worked only so long as the energy was available and applied efficiently.
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