The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization Hardcover – 1705
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Very thorough, well-researched and convincing arguments made engaging through interesting anecdotes.Published on July 24 2014 by tom liacas
This book is full of diary entries, generalizations, platitudes, analogies, metaphors, and unnecessary technical explanations. Read morePublished on March 24 2013 by ogilvie
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. Read morePublished on Dec 13 2010 by ceciliacormier
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)... Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2010 by Regnal the Caretaker
We tend to assume that our civilization is different from the many failed civilizations that preceded it. Read morePublished on Aug. 31 2009 by David Thompson
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... Read morePublished on June 19 2009 by James R. Cable
... 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). Read morePublished on Oct. 8 2007 by Fan of Fiction