Review: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed Published by Penguin on December 2014
Pages: 592
Format: Audiobook
Source: Bought
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4.5 Stars

In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

Fascinating and disturbing, this non fiction book successfully does what it sets out to do.

With that in mind, here are 6 of my favorite beach reads this summer!

[T]he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs. – Jared Diamond

Collapse is both an astonishing book about past and present societies’ rises and falls that kept me glued to my seat as well as one of the most depressing and scary books I’ve read in a while.

Diamond, known previously for his very well received book Guns, Germs and Steel, goes well into each society and presents the trials, errors and successes each had in their, sometimes relatively short, existence.

I’ll be honest. The book was recommended to me by a friend, who we don’t have a lot of reading tastes in common but do share a love of history. What really drew me to the book was the chapters on Easter Island. I’m fascinated by Easter Island, their culture and how the island exists today. (I think he mentioned that in 2004 there were only maybe a couple hundred native inhabitants now living on the island.)

But what kept me going were the other societies that were studied. The very heartbreaking delicate status quo of our own Montana, the genocide in Rwanda, the collapse of Norse society after taking over Greenland, the incredibly successful and then vanished Maya and the awful and near future collapse of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The book is long and heavy with information, which is why I chose to listen to it in audiobook form. The narrator was very skilled, getting through this large book with ease. His voice is strong and even, getting the facts across like a good lecturer while letting us absorb some of the facts.

Would I recommend Collapse? Of course. How else can we look back, learn and try to change our ways so we stop our own society from falling? I do think that if you’re interested in learning anything about the societies touched upon in the book, it might be a better way to read one society individually and then come back and pick another, instead of what I did which was plowing through the all of them in succession

That said, all of them have various elements in common and terrifyingly so, our current society may not be that far behind unless we take action.