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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive [Paperback]

Jared Diamond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)

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Book Description

26 Jan 2006 Penguin Press Science

From groundbreaking writer and thinker Jared Diamond comes an epic, visionary new book on the mysterious collapse of past civilizations - and what this means for our future. Why do some societies flourish, while others founder? What happened to the people who made the forlorn long-abandoned statues of Easter Island or to the architects of the crumbling Maya pyramids? Will we go the same way, our skyscrapers one day standing derelict and overgrown like the temples at Angkor Wat?

Bringing together new evidence from a startling range of sources and piecing together the myriad influences, from climate to culture, that make societies self-destruct, Collapse also shows how unlike our ancestors we can benefit from our knowledge of the past and learn to be survivors.

Product details

  • Paperback: 616 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140279512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140279511
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jared Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Until recently he was Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the widely acclaimed Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, which also is the winner of Britain's 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize.

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From the Back Cover

"Diamond’s most influential gift may be his ability to write about geopolitical and environmental systems in ways that don’t just educate and provoke, but entertain."
—The Seattle Times

"Extremely persuasive . . . replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics."
—The Boston Globe

"Extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in [its] ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the far past."
—The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jared Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Until recently he was Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the widely acclaimed Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, which also is the winner of Britain's 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
155 of 165 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is an outstanding piece of work, in some ways even better than Diamond's Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) which I highly recommend. Here, instead of explaining why wealth and power accrued to European states and not, for example, to South America states, Diamond demonstrates mostly how some societies failed. Along the way he contrasts the failures with some successes, and in the latter part of the book addresses current problems and possible solutions.
He begins with modern Montana, specifically Bitterroot Valley, a society in danger of failing because of deforestation, pollution, loss of productive top soil, and other factors. He follows this with Part 2, "Past Societies" in which the melancholy history of Easter Island and some other Pacific Islands is retold in fascinating detail. I was especially interested in the material on Easter Island, which, because of its relative isolation from the rest of the world over many centuries, has always served in my mind as a microcosmic cautionary tale for the entire planet. Although I have read other books about Easter Island and have seen a couple of documentaries, I found Diamond's exposition full of new information, offering fresh insights into how that society collapsed.
Also delineated in remarkably readable detail are the collapses of the Anasazi of the US southwest, the Maya in Mesoamerica, the Viking-founded colonies in the north Atlantic and especially in Greenland. There is some excellent material on how Iceland succeeded (barely) and how the New Guinea highland people managed to avoid the fate of some other Pacific Island societies, and why Japan succeeded in saving its forests and croplands in the time of the Tokugawa.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag 20 Oct 2005
For those interested in broader reasons for societal collapse, Diamond makes his caveats very quickly - 'Collapse' proposes to investigate *certain type* of failure to thrive or even survive of past and more modern societies. He concentrates on what is called 'ecocide', or ecological suicide, where society fails because of what can be very broadly described as at least partially self-inflicted ecological disaster, essentially a catastrophe of unsustainability.
The specific cases he discusses are, nevertheless, fantastically researched and very well described (even if he does go on a bit in places).
I have to say that after reading the Easter Island and the Pitcairn account with interest I had to struggle with the Anasazi and the Maya chapters, they seemed to be reiterating essentially the same albeit more complicated story in different guises and were frankly bit boring. The chapters devoted to the Viking fate in Greenland, with comparisons with their more successful stories in the Shetlands, Faeroes and Iceland, were, however; absolutely fascinating.
The modern section also had some gems, although, obviously , the reasoning couldn't have been as clear as in case in historical processes. Rwandan genocide is well analysed and the introduction of the ecological issues to the equation is indeed a very enlightening one. The chapter on Australia was perhaps the most interesting for me, with (as with the Vikings) the importance it put on the values and systems of the society in defining their treatment of their environment and their responses to the eventual crisis. I had no idea of the fact that until not so long ago farmers got government subsidy for clearing land of forest and other vegetation while the sheep farmers had to keep to minimum rather than maximum sticking levels!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Jared Diamond (2005). "Collapse. How societies choose to fail or succeed".Viking Penguin.
Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, attempts to analyse why some past and present day societies have collapsed.
The greater part of the bulk of his massive (575 pages) carefully researched book, consists of a set of case studies of past societies like Easter Island and the Maya civilisation, and modern societies such as Rwanda and China. These studies are based on published evidence (archaeological, historical and other evidence), the authors own on-ground explorations, and his interviews with present day residents and analysts. Diamond concludes his book by attempting to draw out from his analyses, practical lessons for society today.
For each society examined, unsustainable practices were identified, the importance of individual practices for societal decline varying from society to society. Deforestation may have led to soil erosion with consequential reduced agricultural productivity, or even such a total loss of available timber that boats needed for fishing or trade could no longer be made. Food production may have been attempted on land not really suitable for sustained production, so that yields fell off drastically over the years. Animal populations, which succoured a hunting society, may have been over-exploited.
On top of such unsustainable practices, climate change sometimes played a significant part in societal decline. Then sometimes hostile neighbours or loss of trading partners were significant adverse factors. But amplifying the effects of all other factors was population growth, which meant there were more mouths to feed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Great read, but poor presentation - give me infographics
This is an excellent book for anyone who questions what the future may hold for humanity. There is just enough detail on the example societies to make you feel invested in them,... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Lord Buckles
2.0 out of 5 stars Irritating repetitive style, tiny type.
The author has a habit of repeating points multiple times in several places in the book, reminding you that he's already mentioned something previously and letting you know that... Read more
Published 3 months ago by A. Dekker
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best book I've ever read!
This is probably the first time I read a book I would suggest to anybody, regardless their interests and background. This a book that enriched me on a personal level. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Michele Filannino
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a little dated now
Diamond is well qualified to write this as he is Professor of Geography at the University of California. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
Well written, thought provoking book. It takes a cold hard look at evidence from a dazzling range of sources and disciplines, surveying what factors have helped societies to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Isabel
5.0 out of 5 stars illuminating
Jared Diamond has once again captured my imagination and changed the way i look at the world... Not to mention that he also answered a lot of my personal long term questions about... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mark Vickery
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow!
I was very disappointed, not least because I had been encouraged to read it by the raft of positive reviews on this site. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Wandering rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Blowing
This is the one book we should all read - a blend of history and present behaviour with some very very profound conclusions.
Published 10 months ago by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Diamond talks about past and present successful and failed civilizations in a clear and understandable way. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Florin
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the shocking truth that more people should know
I must admit that this was very uncomfortable reading and the more I read the worse I felt. Diamond identifies five factors that contribute to collapse: climate change, hostile... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Daniela. G.
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