Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition

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Penguin, Jan 4, 2011 - History - 608 pages
5 Reviews
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?

Look out for Jared Diamond's latest book, The World Until Yesterday, coming from Viking in January 2013.


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Growing up in America at the end of the Cold War, I should be forgiven for getting the impression that only an act of nuclear-powered global self-immolation stood between us and a glorious future of eternal progress, that only two possibilities existed: a future technological paradise and a blighted Mad Max wasteland. "Collapse" by Jared Diamond serves as antidote. Its litany of collapsed civilizations proves that only hubris allows us to imagine that our own civilization will go on forever or that it takes something as dramatic as nuclear war to bring it to an end. Diamond tries to shed light on how it will happen to us by examining the history of collapsed civilizations such as the Mayans, the Anasazi, the Greenland Norse, and the Easter Islanders. We may be done in by something as banal as soil erosion or over-dependence on imported resources. He manages to be surprisingly even-handed when he handles topics like climate change that have become fodder for American politics.  

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I remember recommending this book to a life science friend of mine and she said, "I don't need to be told how bad things are, I know already."
The book is not only about how bad things are but how easy it is to find evidence that human societies are PRONE to collapse.


List of Maps
and nonnative species
TwilightatEaster The quarrysmysteries Easters geography andhistory People
The Last People Alive Pitcairn and Henderson Islands
The Ancient OnesThe Anasaziand TheirNeighbors Desert farmers Tree rings Agricultural strategies Chacosproblems and packrats
TheMaya Collapses
The Viking Prelude and Fugues
Opposite Paths to Success
Malthus in Africa Rwandas Genocide
Causes of divergence
China Lurching Giant
Mining Australia
Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?
Big Businesses and the Environment Different Conditions Different Outcomes Resourceextraction Twooilfields Oilcompany motives Hardrock
TheWorld asaPolder What DoesItAll Mean toUs Today?

Norse Greenlands End Introduction to theend Deforestation Soil and turf damage

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About the author (2011)

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by The Rockefeller University. His previous books include Why Is Sex Fun?, The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse, The World Until Yesterday, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

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