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

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

by Jared Diamond
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Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed / Edition 1

Diamond (geography, UCLA) casts a wide net in the realms of history, geography, and science to address questions essential to humanity's continued survival. Forty-two b&w plates, grouped together, illustrate the scope and some of the examples of his narrative: the deforested landscapes of Easter Island, Chaco Canyon, and Haiti; the forests of Japan—preserved because of top-down management initiated four centuries ago; victims of the 1994 genocidal killings in Rwanda; air and water pollution in China; destruction of environment by sheep and rabbits in Australia; President John F. Kennedy and advisors deliberating during the Cuban Missile Crisis (evidence of group decision-making informed by past mistakes); oil and chemical disasters in the North Sea and in Bhopal; and a gated community, urban sprawl, and smog in Los Angeles. Concluding pages are devoted to reasons for hope. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143036555
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 12/27/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Product dimensions: 8.44(w) x 5.38(h) x 1.07(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

Table of Contents


List of Maps xiii

Prologue: A Tale of Two Farms 1
Two farms
Collapses, past and present
Vanished Edens?
A five-point framework
Businesses and the environment
The comparative method
Plan of the book


Chapter 1: Under Montana's Big Sky 27
Stan Falkow's story
Montana and me
Why begin with Montana?
Montana's economic history
Native and non-native species
Differing visions
Attitudes towards regulation
Rick Laible's story
Chip Pigman's story
Tim Huls's story
John Cook's story
Montana, model of the world


Chapter 2: Twilight at Easter 79
The quarry's mysteries
Easter's geography and history
People and food
Chiefs, clans, and commoners
Platforms and statues
Carving, transporting, erecting
The vanished forest
Consequences for society
Europeans and explanations
Why was Easter fragile?
Easter as metaphor

Chapter 3: The Last People Alive: Pitcairn and Henderson Islands 120
Pitcairn before the Bounty
Three dissimilar islands
The movie's ending

Chapter 4: The Ancient Ones: The Anasazi and Their Neighbors 136
Desert farmers
Tree rings
Agricultural strategies
Chaco's problems and packrats
Regional integration
Chaco's decline and end
Chaco's message

Chapter 5: The Maya Collapses 157
Mysteries of lost cities
The Maya environment
Maya agriculture
Maya history
Complexities of collapses
Wars and droughts
Collapse in the southern lowlands
The Maya message

Chapter 6: The Viking Prelude and Fugues 178
Experiments in the Atlantic
The Viking explosion
Viking agriculture
Viking chiefs
Viking religion
Orkneys, Shetlands, Faeroes
Iceland's environment
Iceland's history
Iceland in context

Chapter 7: Norse Greenland's Flowering 211
Europe's outpost
Greenland's climate today
Climate in the past
Native plants and animals
Norse settlement
Hunting and fishing
An integrated economy
Trade with Europe

Chapter 8: Norse Greenland's End 248
Introduction to the end
Soil and turf damage
The Inuit's predecessors
Inuit subsistence
Inuit/Norse relations
The end
Ultimate causes of the end

Chapter 9: Opposite Paths to Success 277
Bottom up, top down
New Guinea highlands
Tokugawa problems
Tokugawa solutions
Why Japan succeeded
Other successes


Chapter 10: Malthus in Africa: RwandaÆs Genocide 311
A dilemma
Events in Rwanda
More than ethnic hatred
Buildup in Kanama
Explosion in Kanama
Why it happened

Chapter 11: One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories:
The Dominican Republic and Haiti 329
Causes of divergence
Dominican environmental impacts
The Dominican environment today
The future

Chapter 12: China, Lurching Giant 358
China's significance
Air, water, soil
Habitat, species, megaprojects
The future

Chapter 13: "Mining" Australia 378
Australia's significance
Early history
Imported values
Trade and immigration
Land degradation
Other environmental problems
Signs of hope and change

Chapter 14: Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous
Decisions? 419
Road map for success
Failure to anticipate
Failure to perceive
Rational bad behavior
Disastrous values
Other irrational failures
Unsuccessful solutions
Signs of hope

Chapter 15: Big Businesses and the Environment:
Different Conditions, Different Outcomes 441
Resource extraction
Two oil fields
Oil company motives
Hardrock mining operations
Mining company motives
Differences among mining companies
The logging industry
Forest Stewardship Council
The seafood industry
Businesses and the public

Chapter 16: The World as a Polder: What Does It All Mean to Us Today? 486
The most serious problems
If we don't solve them . . .
Life in Los Angeles
One-liner objections
The past and the present
Reasons for hope
Acknowledgments 526
Further Readings 529
Index 561
Illustration Credits 576

The World: Prehistoric, Historic, and Modern Societies 4û5
Contemporary Montana 31
The Pacific Ocean, the Pitcairn Islands, and Easter Island 84û85
The Pitcairn Islands 122
Anasazi Sites 142
Maya Sites 161
The Viking Expansion 182û183
Contemporary Hispaniola 331
Contemporary China 361
Contemporary Australia 386
Political Trouble Spots of the Modern World;
Environmental Trouble Spots of the Modern World 497

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Collapse 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 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
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.
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.    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
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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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.
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