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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (original 2005; edition 2004)

by Jared Diamond (Author)

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10,030156443 (3.97)1 / 261
Member:GVassmer
Title:Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Authors:Jared Diamond (Author)
Info:Penguin Group USA Inc. (2004), Edition: 1, 592 pages
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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (Author) (2005)

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English (142)  German (4)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (155)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
I must say I'm surprised by some of the very very negative reviews of this book. Diamond here discusses, as the book's title suggests, the chain of causes which leads to the devestation of societies, looking at case histories of societies that collapsed (or didn't) due to lack of foresight, or environmental, culture or geopolitical situations.

There are certainly some issues. Either Diamond didn't have the book proofread by anyone outside of the scientific world, or he was rabidly against editorial change, but the work certainly could have used some trimming and reorganising of sentence structures. (A minor point, but one we lit geeks notice). Beyond this, while all of his research and knowledge is fascinating, sometimes it felt like there was an uneven weighting. The Viking/Greenland business - in itself not even the most interesting story, but certainly still a good read - seemed to drag out for much too much of the book, but then again I suppose any anthropology nerd is going to have their own opinions on what cultures should have been examined in further detail.

Beyond any subjective issues, though, I'm surprised that anyone could deny that Diamond has written an important and insightful work here. First, he's captured in fascinating detail the current knowledge and theories on the demise of civilisations from Easter Island to the Incas. On top of this, he lays out in great detail what he sees as the threats to 21st century civilisation, and what we can - and cannot - learn from the past.

Most importantly though, as with other contemporaneous books such as the brilliant [b:1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus|39020|1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus|Charles C. Mann|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1286264416s/39020.jpg|38742], Diamond asks for reasons beyond those we learned in highschool history. Too often, I hear people say how Easter Island was just an example of lack of foresight, or some such business. Of course, as Diamond ponders, we must think about how their society got to the point where they were happy cutting down what were clearly the last trees. But we also examine here the geographical, environmental and historical elements which led to the far-Eastern Pacific islands suffering this fate; and beyond this, Diamond queries the cultural changes that take place in a declining society. He may at times lose himself in details or minutiae that we general, or amateur scientific readers find skippable. But no one can deny his great knowledge, and the power of his argument for societal change.

(A final note: this is probably a 3-and-a-half star work, and for newcomers, I'd recommend "Guns, Germs and Steel" instead) ( )
  therebelprince | Aug 4, 2019 |
Pulitzer prize winning author has written this cool book about why societies rise and collapse. ( )
  atufft | Jul 16, 2019 |
My take-away from this difficult but absolutely important book is that we urgently need to change the ways in which we think, and in which we make our collective decisions.

This book was written 12 years ago, which is frightening enough, and even then, what he described seemed overwhelming. He does a monumental job of synthesizing and analyzing data from key cultures all over the world at different times, looking at what worked and didn't work from a long-term survival point of view, and asking (a bit like the questions asked by Cook in [b:A Brief History of the Human Race|185513|A Brief History of the Human Race|Michael Alan Cook|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388673590s/185513.jpg|179321] ) why these various societies failed or succeeded.

Most instructive, as I see it, are the contrasting examples of Greenlands live Inuits and Dead Norse, and Hispanyola's foresting Dominican Republic and stripped-bare Haiti. He points to collapses, near-collapses, and timely but not necessarily popular policies placed to prevent collapse (particularly well summarized on page 440), and also delves into the problems of mass-manipulation and the related problem of group-think, using the handling of the decision-making processes in the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missle crisis as contrasting examples of how president Kennedy adapted (even stepped out to ensure that they could think without being intimidated by his presence, wow) his governance processes in the small group situation to prevent a recurrence of his error with Bay of Pigs. How rare for a leader to insist that his advisors, and he, change their thinking strategy, and it worked. Unfortunately for the identity-bound Greenland Norse Christians, they were unable to change their thinking, and they died while the Inuits lived, under the very same climatalogical conditions, and with better tools and weapons to boot.
He goes on to answer many oft-cited solutions, like technology, as unable to solve the problems we face, which he lists in 12 major categories, unless we change (as Einstein also said) our ways of thinking, and he also pointed out that much of the problem is one related back to the Tragedy of the Commons (I remember seeing a rebuttal of that issue while working on my phd, but it escapes me) and points out that small-ish Non-anonymous groups often work best at policing themselves democratically (as my conclusions also found regarding small-scale issuance of money in [b:SHARED MONETARY GOVERNANCE: Exploring Regulatory Frameworks, Participatory Internal Decision-making and Scale in Institutional Access to General and Special Purpose Currencies|21532029|SHARED MONETARY GOVERNANCE Exploring Regulatory Frameworks, Participatory Internal Decision-making and Scale in Institutional Access to General and Special Purpose Currencies|Shira Destinie Jones Landrac|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/book/50x75-a91bf249278a81aabab721ef782c4a74.png|40860339] ) -the decision-making process is critical.

He also goes into some statistics that almost began to sound like what David Hackett Fischer talked about in [b:The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History|32082|The Great Wave Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History|David Hackett Fischer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388418135s/32082.jpg|32293] regarding the correlation between societal upheavals and price inflation, which is caused by any number of variables also cited here by Jared Diamond: population pressure and consumption, types of energy being gathered and used and the by-products or externalities and problems caused thereby, inequalities of various kinds, etc.

He stresses that the decisions we make collectively, upon which our lives literally depend, are often made out of a biased or even racist point of view, as with the Greenland Norse who died as civilized European Christians, refusing to learn from or cooperate with the Inuit, who lived. (Ok, maybe they didn't have the choice of cooperating with, but they could surely see that the Inuit ate things that they, the Norse, refused, and also did not keep cows or sheep, which are not good animals to raise in Greenland!)
We therefore, just as both Armstrong in [b:Islam: A Short History|27306|Islam A Short History|Karen Armstrong|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1403181902s/27306.jpg|131885] and Cook also point out, absolutely must change our ways of viewing and interacting with other cultures. We no longer, as Dr. King said over 40 years ago in [b:Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?|211888|Where Do We Go from Here Chaos or Community?|Martin Luther King Jr.|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1358780869s/211888.jpg|2686535], have the luxury of not cooperating.
Shira
14 August, 12017 HE
(the Holocene Calendar) ( )
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
My take-away from this difficult but absolutely important book is that we urgently need to change the ways in which we think, and in which we make our collective decisions.

This book was written 12 years ago, which is frightening enough, and even then, what he described seemed overwhelming. He does a monumental job of synthesizing and analyzing data from key cultures all over the world at different times, looking at what worked and didn't work from a long-term survival point of view, and asking (a bit like the questions asked by Cook in [b:A Brief History of the Human Race|185513|A Brief History of the Human Race|Michael Alan Cook|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388673590s/185513.jpg|179321] ) why these various societies failed or succeeded.

Most instructive, as I see it, are the contrasting examples of Greenlands live Inuits and Dead Norse, and Hispanyola's foresting Dominican Republic and stripped-bare Haiti. He points to collapses, near-collapses, and timely but not necessarily popular policies placed to prevent collapse (particularly well summarized on page 440), and also delves into the problems of mass-manipulation and the related problem of group-think, using the handling of the decision-making processes in the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missle crisis as contrasting examples of how president Kennedy adapted (even stepped out to ensure that they could think without being intimidated by his presence, wow) his governance processes in the small group situation to prevent a recurrence of his error with Bay of Pigs. How rare for a leader to insist that his advisors, and he, change their thinking strategy, and it worked. Unfortunately for the identity-bound Greenland Norse Christians, they were unable to change their thinking, and they died while the Inuits lived, under the very same climatalogical conditions, and with better tools and weapons to boot.
He goes on to answer many oft-cited solutions, like technology, as unable to solve the problems we face, which he lists in 12 major categories, unless we change (as Einstein also said) our ways of thinking, and he also pointed out that much of the problem is one related back to the Tragedy of the Commons (I remember seeing a rebuttal of that issue while working on my phd, but it escapes me) and points out that small-ish Non-anonymous groups often work best at policing themselves democratically (as my conclusions also found regarding small-scale issuance of money in [b:SHARED MONETARY GOVERNANCE: Exploring Regulatory Frameworks, Participatory Internal Decision-making and Scale in Institutional Access to General and Special Purpose Currencies|21532029|SHARED MONETARY GOVERNANCE Exploring Regulatory Frameworks, Participatory Internal Decision-making and Scale in Institutional Access to General and Special Purpose Currencies|Shira Destinie Jones Landrac|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/book/50x75-a91bf249278a81aabab721ef782c4a74.png|40860339] ) -the decision-making process is critical.

He also goes into some statistics that almost began to sound like what David Hackett Fischer talked about in [b:The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History|32082|The Great Wave Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History|David Hackett Fischer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1388418135s/32082.jpg|32293] regarding the correlation between societal upheavals and price inflation, which is caused by any number of variables also cited here by Jared Diamond: population pressure and consumption, types of energy being gathered and used and the by-products or externalities and problems caused thereby, inequalities of various kinds, etc.

He stresses that the decisions we make collectively, upon which our lives literally depend, are often made out of a biased or even racist point of view, as with the Greenland Norse who died as civilized European Christians, refusing to learn from or cooperate with the Inuit, who lived. (Ok, maybe they didn't have the choice of cooperating with, but they could surely see that the Inuit ate things that they, the Norse, refused, and also did not keep cows or sheep, which are not good animals to raise in Greenland!)
We therefore, just as both Armstrong in [b:Islam: A Short History|27306|Islam A Short History|Karen Armstrong|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1403181902s/27306.jpg|131885] and Cook also point out, absolutely must change our ways of viewing and interacting with other cultures. We no longer, as Dr. King said over 40 years ago in [b:Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?|211888|Where Do We Go from Here Chaos or Community?|Martin Luther King Jr.|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1358780869s/211888.jpg|2686535], have the luxury of not cooperating.
Shira
14 August, 12017 HE
(the Holocene Calendar) ( )
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
Collapse is a fitting work to accompany Guns, Germs, and Steel. Although not obvious from either the cover or the blurb, this book has a strong focus on environmental factors affecting societies; in particular, how societies cause and react to changes in their environment.

It begins with a summary of broad factors which cause societies to collapse. Then cycles through ancient and modern case studies to demonstrate those factors in action. As usual, Diamond's evidence spans a range of disciplines and methods in archaeology: palynology (study of pollen), carbon dating, midden (waste) analysis, soil chemical / nutrient analysis, isotope analysis. Some remarks seem unresearched or obsolete; for example, the statement metals are more volatile than oil (as an explanation for why mining is harder for businesses to practise ethically). Generally, though, Diamond's arguments are compelling.

The studies I found most interesting: isolated Easter Island; the disparate futures of the Greenland Norse and Inuits; political history of Haiti; environmentally deprived Australia and its colonial attachment to Britain. Diamond often resorts to comparative history: he believes anthropology is a science, but one where existing and historic events must be analysed systematically in place of experiments. He adds colour via personal encounters and observations. I found the written records of interaction between the Greenland Norse and Inuits (or another society of the era) insightful.

The last quarter of the book, which until then was captivating, borders on didactic. Technology is treated more a distant distraction or a net liability than a tool which can inform and drive environmental protection today. To that end, there's little focus on energy efficiency, conceptually or in practice. Hybrid cars are deemed irrelevant given the rise in gas-guzzling SUVs. I would also have liked to see genetic research figure more in his arguments; likely it would supply further evidence to support his views.

I was offended by Diamond's belief that third world countries should not aspire to first world benefits while condoning current levels of consumption in first world countries. There's an implicit argument that massive US per capita consumption is broadly irreversible and a requirement to maintain standards of living. While Diamond concedes we must ask ourselves which values we can forego in order to survive on this planet, he doesn't place rampant consumerism as such a value. There's no mention of the Western obesity epidemic, or the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism. Diamond fails to contemplate lower consumption in first world countries as a desirable proposition to safeguard a happy and fulfilling future. For this, I dock a star. ( )
  jigarpatel | Mar 4, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Taken together, ''Guns, Germs, and Steel'' and ''Collapse'' represent one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual of our generation. They are magnificent books: extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in their ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the far past. I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wrote so clearly and formed arguments with such care. All of which makes the two books exasperating, because both come to conclusions that are probably wrong.
 
Mr. Diamond -- who has academic training in physiology, geography and evolutionary biology -- is a lucid writer with an ability to make arcane scientific concepts readily accessible to the lay reader, and his case studies of failed cultures are never less than compelling.
 
Human behaviour towards the ecosphere has become dysfunctional and now arguably threatens our own long-term security. The real problem is that the modern world remains in the sway of a dangerously illusory cultural myth. Like Lomborg, most governments and international agencies seem to believe that the human enterprise is somehow 'decoupling' from the environment, and so is poised for unlimited expansion. Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse, confronts this contradiction head-on. It is essential reading for anyone who is unafraid to be disillusioned if it means they can walk into the future with their eyes open.
added by hailelib | editNature, William Rees (Jan 6, 2005)
 
Diamond is at pains to stress the objectivity he has brought to bear on a sequence of collapse scenarios that often continue to generate serious controversy, and for the most part (until the final chapter) leaves it up to the reader to draw down any conclusions from these scenarios that may be relevant to our own societies today.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diamond, JaredAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
Tell that it's sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stampt on these lifeless things,
The hand that mockt them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

"Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)
Dedication
To Jack and Ann Hirschy, Jill Hirschy Eliel and John Eliel, Joyce Hirschy McDowell, Dick (1929-2003) and Margy Hirschy, and their fellow Montanans: guardians of Montana's big sky
First words
A few summers ago I visited two dairy farms, Huls Farm and Gardar Farm, which despite being located thousands of miles apart were still remarkably similar in their strengths and vulnerabilities.
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Information from the Spanish Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Aquellos desmoronamientos del pasado tenían tendencia a seguir cursos en cierto modo similares que constituían variaciones sobre un mismo tema. El aumento de población obligaba a las personas a adoptar medios de producción agrícola intensivos (como el regadío, la duplicación de cosechas o el cultivo en terrazas) y a extender la agricultura de las tierras óptimas escogidas en primer lugar hacia tierras menos rentables con el fin de alimentar al creciente número de bocas hambrientas. Las prácticas no sostenibles desembocaban en el deterioro medioambiental de uno o más de los ocho tipos de acabamos de enumerar, lo cual significaba que había que abandonar de nuevo las tierras poco rentables.
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Five point framework: "environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and a society's responses to its environmental problems."

Contents: Prologue : a tale of two farms -- pt. 1: Modern Montana. Under Montana's big sky -- pt. 2: Past societies. Twilight at Easter -- The last people alive : Pitcairn and Henderson Islands -- The ancient ones : the Anasazi and their neighbors -- The Maya collapses -- The Viking prelude and fugues -- Norse Greenland's flowering -- Norse Greenland's end -- Opposite paths to success -- pt. 3: Modern societies. Malthus in Africa : Rwanda's genocide -- One island, two peoples, two histories : the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- China, lurching giant -- "Mining" Australia -- pt. 4: Practical lessons. Why do some societies make disastrous decisions? -- Big businesses and the environment : different conditions, different outcomes -- The world as a polder : what does it all mean to us today?

Includes bibliographical references (p. [529]-560) and index.  Illustrated.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143036556, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:49 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the prehistoric Polynesian culture of Easter Island to the formerly flourishing Native American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya, the doomed medieval Viking colony on Greenland, and finally to the modern world, Diamond traces a pattern of catastrophe, spelling out what happens when we squander our resources, when we ignore the signals or environment gives us.

» see all 9 descriptions

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