Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond A Sweeping History Of Failing SocietiesJared Diamonds Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is theglass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, andSteel. While Guns, Germs, and Steel explained the geographic andenvironmental 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 coloniesof Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart.Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an eco-meltdown isoften the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined withsocietys response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster. Still, right fromthe outset of Collapse, the author makes clear that this is not a mereenvironmentalists diatribe. He begins by setting the books main question inthe small communities of present-day Montana as they face a decline inliving standards and a depletion of natural resources. Once-vital minesnow leak toxins into the soil, while prion diseases infect some deer and elkand older hydroelectric dams have become decrepit. On all these issues,and particularly with the hot-button topic of logging and wildfires, Diamondwrites with equanimity. Because hes addressing such significantissues within a vast span of time, Diamond can occasionally speak toobriefly and assume too much, and at times his shorthand remarks maycause careful readers to raise an eyebrow. But in general, Diamondprovides fine and well-reasoned historical examples, making the case thatmany times, economic and environmental concerns are one and the same.With Collapse, Diamond hopes to jog our collective memory to keep usfrom falling for false analogies or forgetting prior experiences, and therebysave us from potential devastations to come. While it might seem a stretchto use medieval Greenland and the Maya to convince a skeptic about theseriousness of global warming, its exactly this type of cross-referencingthat makes Collapse so compelling. --Jennifer BuckendorffCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jared Diamond is a treasure, one of a select group of practicing scientists(others would include Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, andthe late Stephen Jay Gould) who can synthesize otherwise dry or densefindings from the academic monographs into informative and entertainingnarratives for general readers. His Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates ofHuman Societies (W.W. Norton & Company, 1997) stands as one of themost important works of nonfiction published in the past few decades - itwon a Pulitzer Prize, among other honors. There he built a persuasivecase for the geographic and biologic determinants of the success (or lackthereof) of civilizations. He sought to boost history as a science, thoughone whose methods necessarily differ from the non-historical sciencessuch as physics and chemistry.Diamond is a true polymath. He trained as a physiologist and taught at theUCLA medical school, has conducted extensive field work in ornithology, isnow a professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, serves as anesteemed advisor on conservation practices, and has received suchawards as the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet. InCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, he applies hismultiple talents to examine the flip side of the big question he raised inGuns, Germs, and Steel. In the earlier book he emphasized the factorsthat contributed to the triumph of certain civilizations over others. InCollapse he focuses primarily (although not exclusively) on civiliza tionsthat failed. It is another Diamond jewel, though not quite so glimmering asits predecessor.Collapse consists of a series of accounts assessing both certain modernsocieties - Montana, Rwanda, The Dominican Republic and Haiti, China,and Australia - and several societies from the past - Easter Island, Pitcairnand Henderson Islands, the Anasazi, the Mayans, Norse Greenland, NewGuinea highlanders, and others. Most of the historical selections representfailures, but some are included to present contrasts or to illustrate thepossibly pivotal importance of environmental choices contemporarysocieties now face.Diamond writes that a more descriptive full title for Collapse would beSocietal collapses involving an environmental component, and in somecases also contributions of climate change, hostile neighbors, and tradepartners, plus questions of societal responses. These are the five factorshe chose to apply in evaluating why most of his selected societies failed.Diamond aims for big conclusi ons based on comparisons across hiscases, but each chapter holds interest on its own. For example, one wouldnot expect to find a disquisition on packrat middens especially fascinating,but Diamond makes it so. These middens - ball-shaped deposits that werebuilt by small rodents and preserved over hundreds of years, containingsticks, plant fragments, mammal dung, food remains, discarded bones,and the rats own feces and urine - can tell us a great deal of value aboutAnasazi history in the American Southwest. For the Anasazi and each of
his other selected historical cases Diamond relies extensively onarcheological studies applying methods both painstakingly detailed andsophisticated, such as those used to analyze the middens. If you did notknow before what a palynologist does, for instance, you will after readingCollapse (hint: it might make some people sneeze). Although the chaptersare built largely on the findings of highly specialized studies, Diamondsnarratives convey a sense of contemporary presence, as if the reader werethere as an observer.In both of his books on societal successes and failures Diamonds methodhas been straight-forward, although one all too rarely practiced. Hebecomes highly familiar with a wide swath of the relevant primaryliterature, consults extensively with the relevant experts, and thensynthesizes broad conclusions that cut across academic disciplines anddifferent cultures. The insights gained are often quite rich, which is why weneed polymaths like Diamond. The results are imperfect, however.Diamond may be criticized for under-playing cultural factors in relation tomaterial and environmental ones. This is not a fatal limitation of Collapse,since the focus is generally on small subsistence societies, wh ere theavailability of sufficient food naturally was a chief determinant of survival.And Diamond does not neglect cultural factors altogether. For example,he ponders why the Norse settlers of Greenland apparently ate so little fish(very few fish bones show up in the archeological sites), since the fishwere abundant, other food was not, and the settlers had migrated from afish-eating society. He speculates that an anti-fish taboo developed,perhaps because people had previously gotten sick from spoiled seafood.The point here, though, is that his cultural explanation (the possible taboo)is weak and unpersuasive, in contrast to the stronger conclusions he buildsfor environmental causes of societal collapse.As enjoyable a read as Collapse is, its most sweeping message - that wecan draw lessons from the past environmental failures to help make betterdecisions today - is less than satisfying. On the one hand, this message isobvious; we do not need Diamonds book to tell us. On the other hand,Diamonds extrapolation from the experience of less than a dozen failedsocieties where environmental degradation can be shown to have played arole is not fully convincing as prophesy for post-industrial society.His selected cases were mostly at the subsistence level and were in someinstances literally insular, in others practically so (at least compared toglobal integration today). As Diamond recognizes, if a society dies outfrom hunger now it will be because we have chosen to let it happen, notbecause no one else knew about it or was unable to help. And as he isalso well aware, now we have developed both new ways to destroy theenvironment (massive emissions of hydrocarbons are a salient example)and new ways to save it (alternatives to fossil fuels, for instance). Thedetails of what will contribute to our environmental demise or sustainabilitywill undoubtedly differ from the societal stories Diamond relates, but he
stands correct on what the primary determinant will be: human beingsmaking either wise or disastrous political choices. For More 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price:Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond - 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price!