How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Book - 2005
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A study of the downfall of some of history's greatest civilizations, written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, includes coverage of such cultures as the Anasazi, the Maya, and the Viking colony on Greenland, tracing patterns of environmental damage, climate change, poor political choices, and other factors that were pivotal to their demise. 250,000 first printing.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2005.
ISBN: 9780670033379
Characteristics: xi, 575 pages, [22] pages of plates :,illustrations ;,25 cm.


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Nov 05, 2019

Unlike the common socioeconomic approach, the author examines history from the perspective of environment. Quite a refreshing approach! Learned a lot about lost civilizations.

Dec 13, 2018

A fascinating book! I've put several of his references on my "For Later" list. The use of "Choose" in the title seemed strange, but Diamond supports it fully. One could hope that the current crop of leaders in America, who believe in capitalizing gains and socializing losses, and who seem to be dismissive of science, might read this book and take a lesson from it. But they will not be alive when the piper needs to be paid, and they have little interest in generations to follow. No interest in the product, only in the next quarter's bottom line.
Amendment. I borrowed Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” the most frequently referenced of Diamond’s sources, through Mobius, hence no individual review. Tainter starts by citing some reasonably well-known examples of collapses, goes on to describe what he means when labeling any society “complex,” and then lists eleven theories frequently presented to explain collapse. His goal is “to understand collapse as a general phenomenon, to gain an understanding not limited to specific cases, but applicable across time, space, and type of society.” He discusses each theory, assesses the value of each to his goal, and finds each lacking (some decidedly more lacking than others). In the concluding sections of the book, he argues that only relatively isolated societies can collapse without global consequences. The chilling corollary to this is that in our highly interconnected world, collapse of any modern state could lead to global collapse. His definition of collapse does not imply that we will all go back to living in caves, but loss of complexity has significant meaning in Tainter’s theory.

Mar 12, 2018

For an academic, Diamond has a very readable writing style. For anyone looking to understand his thesis, it is restated in various places within the book. The examples/case studies that he uses are fascinating. I think that the book is worth a read all the way through, as each example is captivating. If you do not want to commit to the entire book, however, just a pick a chapter or two that seem interesting; you'll get the points he's making.

Jan 23, 2018

A learned author writing in a readable manner offers many good insights into issues confronting our world society. He is apparently a moderate, stating a good point about the need for business and environmental need to be balanced and the role of the citizen in this (p. 484). GT

Jul 27, 2017

People take the original research work of others [Joseph Tainter's brilliant research, in Diamond's case], then write it according to The Establishment Rules, and win those useless Pulitzer prizes [everyone appears to be unfamilair with Pulitzer's background, 'natch!], and then Diamond is in the same rarefied company of George Will and Stephen Hunter [/sarc].
Same occurred with Paul Krugman, who took someone else's original research, then put forth some submediocre position, and wins that Swedish Central Bank Prize in Economics, always incorrectly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics - - but neither the Nobel family nor Nobel Foundation has anything to do with this crud????

Feb 27, 2013

The author offers a readable chronicle of ancient and modern societies that have failed or overcome challenges. Most chapters end with hints on how its lessons might guide us today. In the final chapter he summarizes twelve factors that govern the success or failure of cultures. I felt that this wrap-up was weak - otherwise why did he feel the need to write the 5-page "what I can do" section at the back of the endnotes? Finally, I found it shocking that Diamond approves of locally "environment-friendly" fossil fuel extraction but appears to overlook the greenhouse gas emissions that have global survival implications! Puzzling. This long-winded, 550-page book needed a good copy editor to pare it down to 300-pages.

Aug 07, 2012

The third of the trilogy that also comprises "The Third Chimpanzee" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (and the best one of three extraordinary books, in my opinion); racy style, as in all of Diamond's writing, that allows you to read sophisticated science like a thriller - and learn everything you need to know about the world at the same time!

Dec 30, 2011


Mar 26, 2011

Environment is the root of all problems... short on ideas on how to solve them. Usual complaints (to many people, not enough consideration of the environment)

Good history and analysis of societies that have failed and environment was a contributing factor (Jared claims it was a source for all failures, not just a contributing factor).
Left me with a "so what" after finishing.

Oct 20, 2008

the big picture stuff

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Nov 24, 2015

patsfan34 thinks this title is suitable for 99 years and over

Jul 28, 2008

suby99 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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