on July 24, 2014
Very thorough, well-researched and convincing arguments made engaging through interesting anecdotes.
on March 24, 2013
This book is full of diary entries, generalizations, platitudes, analogies, metaphors, and unnecessary technical explanations. The assertions that need explanations, however, have few or none. Every chapter and sub-chapter begins with a lengthy and pointless narrative that adds nothing to the alleged thesis, which seems to be about energy. I skipped over a lot because of the quantity of filler, stories, and general dreck, but I didn't notice much about the "upside."
on December 13, 2010
Thomas Homer-Dixon delivers again. He presents the luminous insights that come with robust scholarship in a captivating and entertaining prose. He never lectures nor pontificates. Makes you feel you are having an coversation in a pub with your favourite (and cool)university prof. A must-read for anyone who is belwildered by our rapidly changing world from one of its sanest observers.
on February 20, 2010
This is the second book (printed in 2006) by professor Homer-Dixon that I have studied. In the very innovative way, among other topics, he uses EROI (Expected Return on Investment) to assess health and sustainability of societies ! He takes a close look at the modern global capitalism. Does the world truly benefit?
Author implies, planet booming POPULATION is set to put demand not only on oil but on other materials like rare metals. And some technologies are not worth pursuing long term (solar panels technology may not be available soon). Uranium for nuclear plants: if the world consumes it at today's rate it is estimated 59 years before uranium is gone.
If oil peak is true, it is not energy issue, but PLASTICS and many types of fertilizers (cosmetics as well but one can live without them) will be only available from the coal.
In his first book "Ingenuity Gap" (2000) he PREDICTED terrorists' attack on major cities..and we got it in 9/11. Now he predicts financial crisis 2009!
We better pay attention, cause he knows what he writes about! If you want to know the future, do not miss this work !
Written fluently and easy to read, full of information, book contains addition of Notes worth for perusal as well. Fodder for the brain !!
on August 31, 2009
We tend to assume that our civilization is different from the many failed civilizations that preceded it. Homer-Dixon's "The Upside of Down" is a strong contribution to a growing line of literature pointing out the hubris of that assumption (Jared Diamond, Joseph Tainter, Richard Heinberg, Jane Jacobs, Marvin Harris and Edward Gibbons are a few others who have written in the area).
The Upside of Down covers the same themes as Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" - the gathering global threats to modern civilization (e.g. peak oil, global warming, the instability of global capitalism). It also shares the conclusion that we will likely see a global societal collapse.
However, Upside contains a lot more evidence and careful thought. Homer-Dixon is an academic with policy credibility. He has been brought in to advise governments, and speak to distinguished audiences. He is far from being a rabble rouser, and we need to take what he says very seriously.
And while Homer-Dixon feels we will see a societal collapse, he is somewhat more optimistic than the most hard-core "doomers." He argues that we can avoid the worst consequences of collapse, mainly by (1) mitigating our most significant global threats now, and (2) cultivating prospective and adaptive manners of thought and action that will see us through the worst of the collapse.
While these are essential changes to make, unfortunately there is little reason to share his stated optimism. It seems that the threats to civilization are virtually locked in place by the weatlhy elites that profit from them (as was the case in previous failed civilizations). Also it seems that mere thinking - let alone prospective and adaptive thinking - has been on the decline in the United States since the 1980s.
The Obama presidency is a glimmer of hope for change in both areas, but it's a small glimmer. I expect Homer-Dixon's stated optimism is an effort to increase the likelihood that his audience will be spurred to action instead of being depressed into quietism.
Apart from being optimistic, the solutions side of Upside is a bit short and underdeveloped. Hopefully Homer-Dixon will expand on it in a future offering.
Nevertheless, the description of where we are headed is strong and compelling. As a society we need to come to grips with that direction. Homer-Dixon's credibility and wide-ranging research are vital to informing both elites and ordinary people about the urgent need for change.
on June 19, 2009
As a Canadian it's easy to endorce Dr. Homer-Dixon's tretise on the way of the world. As a lay person, unfamiliar with ancient history beyond that which I remember from high school, I cannot comment on accuracy as it pertains to the facts presented therein. This book was an easy read. Forthright and clear in it's presentation, it leaves no doubt in my mind, at least, as to my personal conviction in respect of civilization's future. Whether we will take heed of the warnings is anybody's guess. I reccomend the book highly, but be aware, it's not a "feel good" experience. For those in denial, it will most likely be held as "just another doom and gloom, bad news" book.
on October 8, 2007
... the author spends way too much time focussing on himself. This egocentric perspective detracts from the central message of the book (which I believe in). Although the book does cover some of the core messages in global warming well, there's just too much "all about me" here. You may want to move on to expert books on the specific topics of interest to you.
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. Our schools taught us that the Romans built their imperium on slavery, but Homer-Dixon shows that concept to be false. Oxen pulled the 256 carts of material required by the Colosseum and free peasant farmers supplied the basic energy needs. The Empire collapsed only when the energy required failed. We need to understand what can be learned from that Empire offer, and Homer-Dixon demonstrates how pertinent the lessons are today.
The author's formula for assessment is EROI - Energy Return On Investment. We've been profligate in energy use, and it's future availability is a major concern of the his. "Peak oil" has been the topic of so many books and articles, it should be old news. The author notes how the petroleum industry and those dependent on it keep up a continuous barrage of denial propaganda to discourage us from believing that evident fact. The "globalised" economy was supposed to reduce the distinction between rich and poor. Not only is it having the opposite effect, but it's increasing the consumption of energy in the process. While a number of recent books stress the threats posed by environmental change, Homer-Dixon sees that as but one element in a far larger picture. He deals with a full range of pressures building up to threaten society. He likens them to tectonic stresses likely to snap unexpectedly at any time.
Unlike some books making forecasts or offering timetables of potential catastrophe, Homer-Dixon's more circumspect. He's more concerned with demonstrating that the kinds of "growth" we've experienced cannot endure. What and when surprise setbacks occur is of less importance to him than how we adjust to them. He's not addressing a small coterie of "movers and shakers" with this work His prose style is just short of that of a story-telling narrative. He means for all of us, taxpayers, policy-makers and even academics and scientists, to participate in the development and preparation of new sets of options for survival. We will all be effected by the unfolding events. While this may seem that the author's "Down" is inevitable and final, he prefixed it with "Upside" for a reason. His opening depicts the destruction of a city - San Francisco in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The city didn't collapse and die, but recovery meant a new approach to disaster planning. We must follow that example, or our collapse will be more severe. It will be global and possibly all-consuming. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on March 24, 2007
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.
on March 18, 2007
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.