Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

  • November 9, 2014 · 5:00 PM

By Jared Diamond (2004)

• Hardcover

• Paperback

• eBook

Abridged Audiobook

• Unabridged Books on CD/Tape (Used)

Fairfax Library System

Reviews (Amazon)

Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is the glass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns, Germs, and Steel explained the geographic and environmental reasons why some human populations have flourished, Collapse uses the same factors to examine why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart. Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an eco-meltdown is often the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined with society's response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster. Still, right from the outset of Collapse, the author makes clear that this is not a mere environmentalist's diatribe. He begins by setting the book's main question in the small communities of present-day Montana as they face a decline in living standards and a depletion of natural resources. Once-vital mines now leak toxins into the soil, while prion diseases infect some deer and elk and older hydroelectric dams have become decrepit. On all these issues, and particularly with the hot-button topic of logging and wildfires, Diamond writes with equanimity.

Because he's addressing such significant issues within a vast span of time, Diamond can occasionally speak too briefly and assume too much, and at times his shorthand remarks may cause careful readers to raise an eyebrow. But in general, Diamond provides fine and well-reasoned historical examples, making the case that many times, economic and environmental concerns are one and the same. With Collapse, Diamond hopes to jog our collective memory to keep us from falling for false analogies or forgetting prior experiences, and thereby save us from potential devastations to come. While it might seem a stretch to use medieval Greenland and the Maya to convince a skeptic about the seriousness of global warming, it's exactly this type of cross-referencing that makes Collapse so compelling. --Jennifer Buckendorff (Amazon Review)

Starred Review. In his Pulitzer Prize–winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, geographer Diamond laid out a grand view of the organic roots of human civilizations in flora, fauna, climate and geology. That vision takes on apocalyptic overtones in this fascinating comparative study of societies that have, sometimes fatally, undermined their own ecological foundations. Diamond examines storied examples of human economic and social collapse, and even extinction, including Easter Island, classical Mayan civilization and the Greenland Norse. He explores patterns of population growth, overfarming, overgrazing and overhunting, often abetted by drought, cold, rigid social mores and warfare, that lead inexorably to vicious circles of deforestation, erosion and starvation prompted by the disappearance of plant and animal food sources. Extending his treatment to contemporary environmental trouble spots, from Montana to China to Australia, he finds today's global, technologically advanced civilization very far from solving the problems that plagued primitive, isolated communities in the remote past. At times Diamond comes close to a counsel of despair when contemplating the environmental havoc engulfing our rapidly industrializing planet, but he holds out hope at examples of sustainability from highland New Guinea's age-old but highly diverse and efficient agriculture to Japan's rigorous program of forest protection and, less convincingly, in recent green consumerism initiatives. 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. Photos. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. (Publisher's Weekly)

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  • Jeffrey C. J.

    I know I missed Robert since I know Robert attended the last two but I don't know which Robert it is. Also, Arlene, who was sitting next to you as she didn't RSVP either; Everyone else I think I got you and was good to see all of you!

    November 9

  • Larry

    What is wrong with this picture:

    June 7 First sky dive. 15,000 ft. Fantastic. Ready to go again.
    July, 17-26 SCUBA diving. Dominican Republic. Fantastic. Ready to go again.
    Nov. 1 Triple by-pass surgery. Sucks. Not ready to go again.
    Nov. 9 Missed first mtg with Science Book Club. Sorry, really wanted to discuss this book.
    Live in Laurel, MD. Still not cleared to drive and Washington, DC, ride wimped out.

    November 8

    • Jeffrey C. J.

      Sorry to hear that Larry! But you're pretty close to Bowie so why not check out our sister group the Bowie Bevy of Brainy Books?

      November 9

  • Julia

    I will most likely not be able to make it until I get my car here, but I've been reading and enjoying Collapse. I remember someone at the last meeting (Jeff?) saying Diamond likes to make each point five times and that's certainly true here, but I'm still enjoying the book enough to haul its bulk on the bus with me :)

    1 · November 3

    • Jeffrey C. J.

      I'm on disc 20 of 22 at the moment and have around 4 hours left but hope to be finished by the time we meet; I did a lot of listening in Europe. I'm just sad it looks like you Arlene won't be able to stomach our December meeting.

      November 4

    • Julia

      Jeffery, that's really nice of you! Unfortunately, it's still a long trip for me no matter what since I live near Shady Grove, and I have to be up early on Monday to go to a conference. I have plans already the day of our December meeting, but I'm determined to make it in January!

      1 · November 8

  • Arlene K.

    I also read Guns, Germs and Steel and could never get it out of my head so I'm looking forward to Collapse

    1 · September 29

  • Larry

    I have read "Collapse" and am now reading Diamond's "Guns, Germs & Steel". In Diamond's 2005 "Collapse" he listed five factors that contribute to collapse: climate change, hostile neighbors, collapse of essential trading partners, environmental problems, and failure to adapt to environmental issues. It is interesting that about 10 years ago he listed "climate change".
    I'm looking forward to meeting the group.

    1 · September 29

  • Mayumi O.

    Read the book. I'll have to respond later if I can come or not. I hope to come though.

    1 · September 29

  • Syed A.

    Solar tour of homes Saturday October 4th

    1 · September 28

    • Jeffrey C. J.;­ I probably won't create an event for this but FYI as it's a great 2-day event in both Maryland and Northern Virginia. Go to the site for details about which houses will be opened on which days.

      1 · September 28

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