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Collapse by Jared Diamond

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Jared Diamond’s new book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, will prove to be as influential for this generation as Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring was to the embryonic environmental movement of the early 1960’s.

In Collapse, Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, examines the downfall of some of history’s greatest civilizations. This is an important book, and President Bush had better be reading it right now.

Unlike most books of the moment, Diamond’s Collapse is brilliantly written and persuasively argued. Diamond takes an unstinting look at the failures of past societies&#8212from the deforestation and eventually depopulation of Easter Island, to the vanishing civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and the doomed Viking colony on Greenland. Jared argues that

…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.

In one of the book’s most chilling sections, Diamond lists the countries around the globe with the most environmental degradation&#8212coupled with unbearable population density&#8212and then ticks off the same places as contemporary global trouble spots. Rwanda, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan all make the list.

Jared argues that change is needed to prevent the future demise of our 21st Century civilizations and that hard, political and cultural choices lie ahead. Jared teaches at UCLA and, lately, whenever I am in the student store on that campus, I stop to look at the area devoted to his work, and I think of this book’s major question, “how can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?”

May 1 to January 17, 2006:
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County presents Collapse? This exhibition draws on ideas from Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed.

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About Gregg Chadwick

  • FG

    Why does Mr. Diamond blame so strongly the violence rooted among Greenland Norsemen and attribute to this attitude a great role in their failure? Why their violence is worse than Maya wars and tortures or Anasazi cannibalism?

  • I haven’t read the book yet, but having read others of Diamond’s books, this one really looks wortwhile.

    He choose a subject that many people do not want to know about, and yet we can and should learn from the past if we ever want to try and prevent it from happening again.

  • I always like the different ways reviewers describe the same book. This one, for example, I read a while ago, and was impressed at how Diamond

    pulls no punches… where there are culprits in human skins, Diamond identifies them. It was chastening to realize, though, how often the collapsed societies simply had bad luck.

    I suspect an industrialist might hear a different set of warning bells in Diamond’s description than you do, Gregg. After all, the societies you listed share something more in common than “environmental degradation” and “unbearable population density.”

  • I really like this book.

    The whole idea of how some life styles only work for awhile because they are based on the resources that the environment has stored up over time is a very strong idea.

    I think that a lot of the conservative themes of anti-tax, anti-union and anti-working people might work for some people for awhile, but after America depletes its built up stores of middle class wealth, and only rich people and poor people are left in America, the whole conservative economic theory will collapse.