Summary and book reviews of Collapse by Jared Diamond

Collapse

How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond

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

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Book Summary

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how andwhy Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, 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 fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society's apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

A substantial excerpt from the prologue follows the Index.

Index

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



Part One: MODERN MONTANA

Chapter 1: Under Montana's Big Sky Stan Falkow's story
Montana and me
Why begin with Montana?
Montana's economic history
Mining
Forests
Soil
Water
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



Part Two: PAST SOCIETIES

Chapter 2: Twilight at Easter
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?
...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

In the American Southwest, an ancient city of intricate masonry rises from the floor of an utterly desolate canyon. A roofless but intact Norse church perched over a fjord in Greenland attests to a Christian colony that flourished for hundreds of years—but not a single survivor remains. In Australia, sheep and rabbits compete for sparse vegetation in vast prairies that were thick with native grasses two centuries ago. Haiti and Rwanda, both desperately overcrowded and environmentally degraded, have repeatedly exploded in appalling violence.

What do these seemingly random scenarios, remote from each other in space and time, have in common? In Collapse, Pulitzer Prize–...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Diamond's bottom line is clear - for all our technology and electronic widgets, we are still bound to nature and reliant on it. As always, you can judge this book for yourself by reading a substantial excerpt at BookBrowse, which will give you an understanding of the book's overall premise sufficient to hold your own in conversation on the subject with most people!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (323 words).

Media Reviews

Scientific American - Robert S Desowitz, emeritus professor of tropical

Collapse is a big book, 500-plus pages. It may well become a seminal work, although its plea for societal survival through ecological conservation is rather like preaching to the choir. It is not a page-turner, especially for slow readers of short attention span (like this reviewer). Some of Diamond's case studies may be overkilled by overdetail. The last section, on practical lessons, seems disconnected from the central Collapse story and almost constitutes a separate book. But, having discharged the reviewer's obligation to be critical, my recommendation would definitely be to read the book. It will challenge and make you think—long after you have turned that last 500th-plus page.

Publishers Weekly

Diamond is a brilliant expositor of everything from anthropology to zoology, providing a lucid background of scientific lore to support a stimulating, incisive historical account of these many declines and falls. Readers will find his book an enthralling, and disturbing, reminder of the indissoluble links that bind humans to nature.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Drawing examples from ... Polynesian culture on Easter Island to the Viking outposts in Greenland to the Mayan civilization in Central America, the author finds the fundamental pattern of catastrophe that is apparent in these populations that once flourished and then collapsed. The template he holds up is a construct based on five factors, including environmental damage, climate change, and hostile neighbors. In addition, Diamond casts his critical but acute and inclusive gaze on the issue of why civilizations fail to see collapse coming. A thought-provoking book containing not a single page of dense prose.

Reader Reviews

Cristopher Lesniak



While this book echoes themes from his previous work, it ambitiouslly takes on the questiion that social scientists and historians have been pondering for some time; "What causes societies to fail?" Diamond certainlly provides fascinating ...   Read More

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"I've set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years. Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? This problem has fascinated me for a long time, but it's now ripe for a new synthesis because of recent advances in many fields seemingly remote from history, including molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics....." - Jared Diamond

Read the full text of Diamond's talk to The Edge Foundation - an interesting looking organization that 'seeks to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and ...

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