Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed / Edition 1

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed / Edition 1

4.1 119
by Jared Diamond

ISBN-10: 0143036556

ISBN-13: 9780143036555

Pub. Date: 12/27/2005

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

"In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 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, 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…  See more details below


"In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 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, 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 historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the prehistoric Polynesian culture on 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 fundamental pattern of catastrophe, spelling out what happens when we squander our resources, when we ignore the signals our environment gives us, and when we reproduce too fast or cut down too many trees. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, unstable trade partners, and pressure from enemies were all factors in the demise of the doomed societies, but other societies found solutions to those same problems and persisted.

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.44(w) x 5.38(h) x 1.07(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Prologue : a tale of two farms1
Pt. 1Modern Montana25
Ch. 1Under Montana's big sky27
Pt. 2Past societies77
Ch. 2Twilight at Easter79
Ch. 3The last people alive : Pitcairn and Henderson Islands120
Ch. 4The ancient ones : the Anasazi and their neighbors136
Ch. 5The Maya collapses157
Ch. 6The Viking prelude and fugues178
Ch. 7Norse Greenland's flowering211
Ch. 8Norse Greenland's end248
Ch. 9Opposite paths to success277
Pt. 3Modern societies309
Ch. 10Malthus in Africa : Rwanda's genocide311
Ch. 11One Island, two peoples, two histories : the Dominican Republic and Haiti329
Ch. 12China, lurching giant358
Ch. 13"Mining" Australia378
Pt. 4Practical lessons417
Ch. 14Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?419
Ch. 15Big businesses and the environment : different conditions, different outcomes441
Ch. 16The world as a polder : what does it all mean to us today?486

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Collapse 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 118 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Diamond uses a broad selection of societies, both historical and contemporary, to advance his thesis that most societies collapse primarily due to environmental causes. However in some instances, I think that he overstates the impact that human mismanagement has on the collapses. For example, when describing why the Norse floundered in Greenland after 500 years there he largely attributes it to their unwillingness to let go of their traditional agrarian values in lieu of adopting the Inuit values. It is quite possible that the defining cause of collapse is that the environment in Greenland was simply too harsh to support that many settlers and one of the recurring droughts was simply too severe to be survived. In other words, they shouldn't have settled there to begin with. Instead of criticizing the Norse for ONLY surviving for 500 years instead of say 1,000 years maybe we should be patting them on the back for managing to last longer than 400 years. A far more critical problem (for me at least) is that in three places in the book he speaks approvingly of China's tough policy on population control. At one point he explicitly acknowledges that the policy is based on forcible abortions and sterilizations of women. Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, it is tough to say that forcibly strapping a woman down and aborting her fetus and sterilizing her against her wishes is a good thing. It's barbaric. Towards the end of the book, when he is making policy suggestions he refers to the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich and takes a gratuitious slam at Simon (who died last year and is unable to defend himself). Sure enough, as I read the acknowledgements I came across Paul Ehrlich's name. The slam on Simon was unnecessary and not germane to the book. Another problem arises when he discusses the LA riots and some other aspects of life in LA. I happened to be living in downtown LA during the riots and I had the experience of watching the city burning from the roof of my apartment building. His comments [for example criticizing the wealthy for 'living in gated communities, drinking bottled water, using private security guards and sending their children to private schools'], which were not strictly in support of his thesis, displayed a reliance on the same standard reactionary Liberal dogma. That reduces my inclination to accept his other conclusions because it tends to amplify the possibility that they will be based on a biased interpretation of the facts. One interestingly unexpected point was when he devoted a few pages to extolling Chevron's behavior in Papua New Guinea. Although I bet Diamond would be opposed to oil drilling in ANWR (like most environmentalists), I will use his Chevron-Papua New Guinea pages to lobby Congress in FAVOR of drilling in ANWR. It's a perfect example of how we can successfully drill for oil without disrupting nature! Although there are a number of places where Diamond was not successful at stifling some of his more 'Liberal' instincts, I am intelligent enough to make my own conclusions. The book has a number of good points and it was successful at increasing my sensitivity to the environment. He would count that as a 'win' I am sure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought that the book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed was an exellent read and book. Collapse makes you rethink about our world and the ancient world, including how civilizations even our own civilization, with modern technology and advanced medicine, can still fall. The information provided in the book was very provocative. The book was overall an exellent read from the beginning to end because of how the information was conveied. Jared diamond keeps the book an interesitng book by telling the information in a non-lecturing way, and more of an intellectual creative way. Diamond is able to show how different societies and civilizations fall or succeed by not only using examples like Easter Island from the past, but also mondern Montana from today. These thoughts, along with how they are presented make this book a great read for students, teachers, professors, and people who enjoy reading about history in a new provocative way. Jared Diamond is able to complete his purpose very effectivley. Jared Diamond is able to complete his purpose by breaking the book into different parts using effective organization. The book is broken into different parts. Part One is about Modern Montana which talks about the vunlerablities in Montana's social and political frameworks. Parr two discusses the old societies of Easter, Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, the Anasazi, Maya, vikings,and Norse Greenland. Part three discussess modern socities in Africa, the Dominican Republic and Hati, China, and Austraila. Finnally part four summarizes why all of these socities fell or succeeded, or how they may or may not fall. All of the analysis of these socities revolve aroud five key reasons. The reasons are envriomental damage, climate, change, hostile neighbors, frinedly trade partners, and how socities respond to their own, unique environmental challenges. With this style of organization Jared Diamond is able to complete his purpose by continually revist the point of his five point frame work as to why the particular society failed or succeeded. Since Diamond was able to successfully created his purpose throught out the book, the book made more sense and without out the framework the book would have been uncomprehensiable and impossable to read and understand.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone I know seems to have been blown away by this book. Having studies anthropology in grad school, I had a hard time finding much that was really all that original. In addition, Mr, Diamond seems to be from the grand ivory tower tradition of needing to back up his assertions with examples ad nauseum - there is really nothing, in terms of actual ideas, that couldn't have been conveyed in a book 100 pages long, with efficient references to the necessary examples required for depth and legitimacy. Guns, Germs and Steel left me feeling the same way - that I just spent way too much time reading about concepts that I should have been able to digest in an evening.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
In this fascinating, surprising study, Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond examines how and why some societies fail while others thrive. Diamond makes this history of failed societies into a page-turner, while resisting the urge to oversimplify. He unflinchingly examines cannibalism and mass murder in the hellish downfalls of Easter Island and Rwanda. Yet, he also outlines hope-inspiring successes in New Guinea, Japan and the Dominican Republic. This fat tome is quite engrossing, though in spots Diamond shows an academic¿s weakness for repetition and caveats. Even so, this compelling classic deservedly has spent a long time on the bestseller lists. getAbstract recommends it to anyone who hopes to understand how human societies have gone wrong ¿ and right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The limitations of this book boil down to two things: 1)The paucity of the "historical" record and 2) Mr. Diamond's wish to be heard so he goes out of his way not offend anyone in his ending chapters. To sum up societal collapses have happened in the past due to among other things human environmental damage, climate change, and human population growth. He convinced me of that but whether any specific civilization he cites collapsed for the reasons he states is unconvincing. Second relying on the demographic transition to deal with the current population problem is probably not going to work. Mr. Diamond proposes nothing on this grave matter though he does express admiration for China's one child policy which makes him an exception among current thinkers on this. Mr. Diamond could have condensed this book to 20 pages in my opinion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Collapse is a book that has changed my every day life, with a greater focus & more frequent 'second-thoughts' regarding my actions & their affect to not only our economy but more so to our wordly environment. The book is compelling & creates an awareness well beyond what you'll find in any TV show or even documentary. Simply because of the broad range of topics covered & their relation to today & the future, does it really speak to the heart. The book includes so much information that it shouldn't be surprising if there are parts that speak more to the reader than others. However, cover to cover, it's full of critical information that, in my opinion, should be required knowledge of people all across the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Diamond is a very strong writer and lecturer, and this book is not lacking in the type of articulation you would expect from him. However, it is not obvious -- in light of last century's marked environmental improvement compared with the 19th century, especially in forestation -- that the problems and possible solutions found at such unique cases such as Pitcairn Island have any bearing on current and future policy. Diamond is undoubtedly a partisan (his second book, 'Guns, Germs, and Steel', was strongly endorsed by the Clinton administration and continues to be a progressive mainstay), and this book ought to be read with that in mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a startling, enthralling, ever interesting read at least for the fist 400 of its 500 pages. Professor Diamond, a Geographer by training sets about to detail through a pile of evidence how man¿s inattention to (or misunderstanding of) his environment can lead to lower and lower standards of livings, and in many cases the total ¿collapse¿ of a society. As an Economics major in College I learned two vital truths, that Economics is the science of scarcity, and that it then requires value judgements on how to deal with the distribution of scarce goods. Bottom line, geographer Diamond has written, as best I can determine, a first rate book of economic geography. How the management, use, replenishment of scarce natural resources leads to all sorts of unintended consequences. It is these historical consequences that I found most revealing and entertaining to read about. Your going to learn an awful lot by reading this book and your perspectives may change, or at a minimum will be challenged. Diamond is a very good writer, many chapters read like he is sitting in the room with you explaining his every thought. He can take dry statistics (and there a lot of them) and make them understandable in a few sentences. The early chapters on modern Montana, Easter Island, Pitcarn Island, the Anasazi and Maya and the Norse in Greenland are all just tremendous. As to modern societies I found his study of Haiti and the Dominican Republic especially interesting. My only criticism of the book is that I felt it got a bit redundant and over written in Part four, Practical Lessons. Not that this is not good stuff, but it lacks the historical and entertaining narrative drive Diamond displays in the first three parts of the book. One last note, I had just read the biography of JOHN JAMES AUDUBON: The making of an American (2004) by Richard Rhodes. In that book I found it remarkable how Audubon, during his lifetime, recorded the wholesale slaughter and disappearance of many birds, and of most forested areas he visited. For me, this could be another example of how we have depleted scarce resources over a short period of time. Unfortunately, I am much more environmentally pessimistic after reading Mr. Diamond¿s wonderful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nice, soft introduction to sustainability. Soft because it looks at sustainability from a perspective other than the common environmental one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
commandereagle2 More than 1 year ago
It was a while ago that I read this book. The general concept that past societies collapse slowly and for apparently non-environmental reasons and that only in great hindsight can observers see that the societies were living un-sustainably  is both a very power and useful if unfortunately un-falsifiable idea. There are plenty of individual criticisms to be had. However, this book should be strongly recommended to anyone willing to reflect on the human society and read with an open yet critical mind.    
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While the history of some of the ancient civiliations and their fall was interesting, far, far too much of this book is preachy save the earth rants, over and over. Very disappointing, expected more of this author, have read some of his other writings that were a lot more enlightening and interesting. We are plundering the land, some countries worse than others - we get it, we get it, now write something we don't know.
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DrCole More than 1 year ago
Chapter two of this book, entitled "Twilight at Easter," about the fate of Easter Island, is a must-read for my high school science students. I don't know of anything out there that makes the point any better. If we don't take care of our world, we will pay the price.
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