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

Jared Diamond
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,132 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
154 of 164 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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
Format:Hardcover
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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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A microcosm of the future fate of the world 25 Jan 2006
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Diamond applies his renowned semi-deterministic view of the impact of climate and environment on human society to the problem of how some societies fail and ultimately disappear. His conclusions offer a clear alarm call for the future of human society in its present form on planet Earth.
The book starts by setting out those questions which soceities must address if they are to survive and flourish. Basically these involve how they respond to changes in the environment (including trying to prevent detrminental changes), their degree of adaptability and their relations with other nearby or related societies. The hypothesis is that by studying these factors in relation to societies which have failed over time, it is possible to develop a theory of how societies fail, or decide to fail.
This is fascinating: history books normally focus on political processes, but Diamond's approach goes one step further back in identifying the material forces promoting certain types of political change (or indeed inertia). The account of the decline of societies in Easter Island and Greenland are as good as anything Diamond has written before and make for compelling reading. We are left with a rather more realistic view of our ancestors than is sometimes promoted: rather than living in harmony with mother nature they often made more shocking environmental mistakes than we do today; rather than being driven by primitive, mystical or religious motivations their social choices were largely determined by the material and economic priorities of governing elites.
The most important message from this book is a warning of what happens when societies throw caution to the wind and adopt unsustainable policies, living off preciouc environmental capital rather than limiting themselves to its fruits.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 12 days 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 3 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 3 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 5 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 5 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 7 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 12 months ago by D. Giusti
2.0 out of 5 stars Repetitive arguments over and over
Much as I had liked "Guns, germs and steel", by the same author, this book gets you fed up. It is an endless repetition of arguments. The same things all the time. Read more
Published 12 months ago by F DEL POZO BERENGUER
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Didn't like the narrators voice at the start since I am english and his is a strong American accent but got used to it. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Fred
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book
Read it! This is about important lessons from history and for the future about sustainability - a 'must read' for all
Published 14 months ago by Dr. M. Everard
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