Book Review – ‘Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ by Jared Diamond

Posted on April 2, 2010. Filed under: Human Rights | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jared M. Diamond;
Viking Press.
ISBN10: 0143036556 ISBN13: 978-0143036555

Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed' by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

Returning strongly following the triumph of his Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’, Jared Diamond’s latest work,

‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ can be described as book of stimulating awareness of a coin’s flip side.

Whereas ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ analyzed the way several societies flourished, as a result of their particular geographical and ecological inheritance, this book has a look as to why ancient communities and societies have failed so frequently in past times, partly due to similar causes. 

To back up his particular theories, the author examines the inner workings of a diverse mix of earlier civilizations, such as the Anasazi from the American South-west, the Mayans as well as the colonial Vikings of Greenland to emphasize the point that geography or time have no respect or concern for collapsing societies. This is also the case in vice-versa.

‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ also considers modern-day societies including Rwanda in order to put in plain english the devastation that not too long ago presented itself to this human rights bare, grief stricken country, along with detailed explanations of why an American state such as modern day Montana, once considered one of the wealthiest states in the USA, should now be among the least well off. Might Montana be described as a scaled down version of the greater United States? The implications are obvious.

Jared Diamond ponders how is it that at one time extremely advanced and  supposedly astute societies that engineered spectacular monuments as testament to their particular cultural and commercial adroitness, can abruptly disappear or be cursed with a sudden monumental impotence.

All the way through the authors numerous examples is the uneasy feeling that quite conceivably this type of destiny may also befall our very own modern westernised nations of supposed endless prosperity.   In actual fact,this is  the primary idea in this highly enjoyable and very intoxicating book.

‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ intends to awaken our collective awareness for a comprehension of what exists before our eyes in order that we might, just maybe, be spared, as substaniated, by the stumbling blocks of our shared histories.  Essentially, we can not distinguish nor separate the environment from economies if we intend to counteract a ruinous destiny. The two are indivisible.

This maxim is no better demonstrated than  with the book’s commentary concerning the Ancient Pueblo People – the Anasazi. The ruins of their culture in now what is northern New Mexico indicate a highly advanced and systematic culture within a vulnerable desert surrounding whichsurvived about six hundred years.  Helping put this into perspective, these people held up for a longer period than every European culture inside the Americas up to now. Nevertheless, as time passed the Anasazi from the Chaco Canyon community grew to become increasingly skilled with responsibilities associated with their once successful community. As a result this granted them opportunities to make further and more efficient within their economy whilst also driving them culturally to be equally as interdependent. As time progresssed the Chaco Canyon complex depended increasingly more on communities on the periphery and outposts farther afield for extra help and sustenance, similar to a London or a Rome like city today.  The major metropolitan areas served as centers for religion and government facilitating the administration of their respective societal structures. 

‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’  details how, like numerous modern cities of today, Chaco Canyon grew to be a place where goods were imported, but rarely a place where tangibles were exported from.

When the number of people grew, similarly the demands relating to their environment grew. Energy supply and various necessary resources grew to become more and more remote; in conjunction with soil depletion and erosion in the adjoining farmlands. Essentially, the Ancient Pueblo Peoples grew to be ever more in the vicinity of dwelling at the edge of what the environment could realistically sustain.

The breaking point came with an extended period of drought.  Supporting and feeding themselves became next to impossible and their society all of a sudden disintegrated to the point of absolute civil breakdown, followed by uprisings, war, cannibalism and the eventual total abandonment of the Chaco Canyon site.
The moral message to take from this is the fact that even though these people implemented solutions which were remarkably effective and easy to undestand in the short-run,  deadly errors were perpetuated over a longer duration. Of course this can be seen as analogous to our own modern day circumstances of rampant consumerism with little care for the exploitation of our precious environment and the sucking dry of our finite natural resources.

Despite the fact that ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ may seem to solely come up with a powerful link between a failure of any society and the environment, it isn’t just about eco-cataclysms.  The author additionally quantifies four further significant components regarding the decline of societies at the same time; such as belligerent neighbours; lack of partners to trade with; climate change and probably most significantly, the response to opportunities and threats.   Within this line of thought, the book equally considers a number of historical successes where Japanese societies and the society of the  New Guinea highlands possessed the wisdom to alter elemental customary values and reestablish a beneficial harmony with nature, trading partners etc. and prosper.

The concluding thoughts of ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ are of caution but also hope for our own destiny.  Humankind, the author reiterates, is the main architect of our problems.

We likewise have the power to repair the dilemmas we have created.  It is not going to be easy and will demand deep-seated courage, so very necessary if we’re to hold hope and optimism in to our future.


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