Comment: In his earlier book, Guns Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond convincingly argued that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed writing, technology, government, and organized religionas well as nasty germs and potent weapons of warwhich allowed them to venture far afield to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures.
In Collapse Diamond takes a look at the darker side of the coin - the societies that didn't make it, barely made it, or are destined, as Diamond sees it, for failure. Much of the book focuses on a few of today's environmental hotspots - and the findings are pretty depressing - despite having all the technological advances and knowledge of our modern culture, it seems we're really not doing any better at keeping our environment healthy than the extinct people of Easter Island.
Having said that, it's not entirely doom and gloom, Diamond does let a few rays of sunshine through when he draws attention to a few examples of sustainability, such as Japan's strict forest protection programs (having said that, he goes on to say that while they're doing a great job protecting their own backyard, their appetite for wood hasn't changed - which is leading to forest decimation in vulnerable places such as Papua New Guinea) His bottom line is clear - for all our technology and electronic widgets, we are still bound to nature and reliant on it.
Booklist describes Collapse as 'a thought-provoking book containing not a single page of dense prose, whereas Scientific American says 'it is not a page-turner'....but definitely recommends reading the book as it 'will challenge and make you think - long after you have turned that last 500th-plus page'. As always, you can decide for yourself by reading a substantial excerpt at BookBrowse; and if you do I feel fairly confident that you'll come away with an understanding of the book's overall premise sufficient to hold your own in conversation on the subject with virtually anyone!
This review is from the January 4, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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