Excerpt from Collapse by Jared Diamond, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond

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  • First Published:
    Dec 2004, 575 pages
    Jan 2006, 592 pages

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The last set of factors in my five-point framework involves the ubiquitous question of the society's responses to its problems, whether those problems are environmental or not. Different societies respond differently to similar problems. For instance, problems of deforestation arose for many past societies, among which Highland New Guinea, Japan, Tikopia, and Tonga developed successful forest management and continued to prosper, while Easter Island, Mangareva, and Norse Greenland failed to develop successful forest management and collapsed as a result. How can we understand such differing outcomes? A society's responses depend on its political, economic, and social institutions and on its cultural values. Those institutions and values affect whether the society solves (or even tries to solve) its problems. In this book we shall consider this five-point framework for each past society whose collapse or persistence is discussed.

I should add, of course, that just as climate change, hostile neighbors, and trade partners may or may not contribute to a particular society's collapse, environmental damage as well may or may not contribute. It would be absurd to claim that environmental damage must be a major factor in all collapses: the collapse of the Soviet Union is a modern counter-example, and the destruction of Carthage by Rome in 146 b.c. is an ancient one. It's obviously true that military or economic factors alone may suffice. Hence a full title for this book would be "Societal collapses involving an environmental component, and in some cases also contributions of climate change, hostile neighbors, and trade partners, plus questions of societal responses." That restriction still leaves us ample modern and ancient material to consider.

From Collapse by Jared Diamond. Copyright Jared Diamond 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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