The B&N Podcast: Jared Diamond on Nations in Crisis Mode


Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

On today’s episode we’re joined by a guest whose unique career proves that there’s no predicting where curiosity and determination to follow its lead can take you. We’re joined by the  writer Jared Diamond for a conversation about his new book Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change. Diamond is a professor of geography at UCLA, and the author of bestsellers including Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail and Succeed and The World Until Yesterday. Diamond began his academic career in the field of physiology, studying the biology of membranes, but he went on to author studies in ecology and ornithology, specializing in the birds of New Guinea. But it’s in his third career — studying environmental history and the forces that shape human societies — that has brought him worldwide attention. He joined us in the studio for an talk about his new book, which takes a novel approach to the question of how modern countries have faced moments of identity crisis — and what brought them through to the other side.


A “riveting and illuminating” (Yuval Noah Harari) new theory of how and why some nations recover from trauma and others don’t, by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of the landmark bestsellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse.

In his international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, in his third book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes — a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises.

Diamond compares how six countries have survived recent upheavals — ranging from the forced opening of Japan by U.S. Commodore Perry’s fleet, to the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland, to a murderous coup or countercoup in Chile and Indonesia, to the transformations of Germany and Austria after World War Two. Because Diamond has lived and spoken the language in five of these six countries, he can present gut-wrenching histories experienced firsthand. These nations coped, to varying degrees, through mechanisms such as acknowledgment of responsibility, painfully honest self-appraisal, and learning from models of other nations. Looking to the future, Diamond examines whether the United States, Japan, and the whole world are successfully coping with the grave crises they currently face. Can we learn from lessons of the past?

Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond’s books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet.

Explore more books by Jared Diamond.

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Author photo of Jared Diamond (c) Reed Hutchinson.