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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag, 20 Oct 2005
This review is from: Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive (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!
Why then disappointment and three stars only?
Firstly, Diamond has a tendency to intersperse his account with personal angle, which, frankly, was overblown, terribly boring and added virtually nothing to the argument. Why do we need a 3 page account of his and his family's personal history in connection to Montana? Three short paragraphs would do perfectly well. Similar approach was repeated few more times in the Montana's chapter; with virtually every inhabitant mentioned provided with a cv. This was a true put-off for me, I almost gave up on the book then and I have to say that the same happens in one of the final chapters dealing with Los Angeles.
He makes a lot out of the notion of the total environmental footprint of a society as opposed to sheer numbers; and the fact that even if we slow down or reduce the population growth, increasing standards of leaving to which the so called Third World countries aspire and are encouraged to aspire to by the West would mean increasing this overal human environmental impact in ways that could cause global collapse.
But he largely fails to address the influence of the modern multinationals as well as Western governments on the environment in the less developed countries. His account of Chevron's clean operation in New Guinea is a very hopeful one indeed, but his acceptance of the fact that businesses operate solely to generate profits and only by making the adoption of wider social and environmental concerns profitable we have a chance of influencing their practices seems rather less enlightened.
He mentions many times the global interdependency of the modern era; but he doesn't seem to recognise the need for changes in the status quo and the way this global system is biased towards those who so far at least have had the biggest impact. I can understand that the prospect of the billion of the Chinese eating as much meat and calories and using as much electricity as Americans must be pretty scary and is good as a shock tactic and perhaps better than suggesting that we (the inhabitants of fat, energy guzzling North) need to accept the lowering of our standard of living as well - or maybe change our definition of what a good standard of living consists of?
I also understand that Diamond's book is aimed at the American audience and thus has to go lightly on the notions of top-down control, government regulations and getting rid of some of the cars in case they reject the whole message. This means though that the 'future prospects' and 'what can I do' and 'what should WE do' answers are rather tepid. If we are indeed facing a significant probability of a global collapse caused by our unsustainable use of the natural resources in the next 50 years or so; then surely we should do more than press Ikea and B&Q to use wood from sustainable forests. Using your vote, lobbying and boycott are good things; but surely an impending crisis calls for stricter measures - suggesting taxing SUV's out of existence would be a good start instead of lamenting that they became more popular than Smart cars....
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jul 2012 11:21:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Jul 2012 11:23:01 BDT
Fatman says:
I share your feelings about this book.
I even had the impression that the final chapters had been written by somebody else, maybe his grandson.
AFter all the preparation of real and valid points, the suggestions he comes up with are childishly, ridiculously insufficient.
There must be a political reason behind it, probably he was careful not to upset the Average American Reader.
The same person must have been the target of the boring details of Dominican baseball players.

Anyway, the book is a real eye opener and should really be read widely and deeply.
I just got a copy of it in French for my friend.
It would certainly benefit of a more critical editorial work.

Posted on 8 Dec 2012 20:55:49 GMT
Car pooling incentives may be a better way to go than taxation for SUVs - we respond top carrots more than tax sticks, which promote adaptive, avoiding behaviour
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