797 of 863 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The discipline of geography is back!
"Collapse" is a wonderful book! Prof. Diamond combines hard science, rigorous historical research, and his own personal knowledge of people from the Bitterroot Valley of Montana to the west coast of Greenland to Rwanda to the highlands of New Guineau. He pulls together clear and compelling explanations of how events unfolded (and are still unfolding) in various parts of...
Published on January 7, 2005 by Ellis O. Jones
338 of 382 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of mass marketing
I'm an old fan of Diamond, but with each book I like him less. "Collapse" isn't really about science or ecology or the lessons of history, but how to sell books. Take a no-argument topic (People can destroy their environment,) add urgency (This is happening to us!)get some research assistants to dig up what interesting facts they can (even if they get them wrong,) and get...
Published on March 22, 2005 by Jose Hanson
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797 of 863 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The discipline of geography is back!,
"Collapse" is a wonderful book! Prof. Diamond combines hard science, rigorous historical research, and his own personal knowledge of people from the Bitterroot Valley of Montana to the west coast of Greenland to Rwanda to the highlands of New Guineau. He pulls together clear and compelling explanations of how events unfolded (and are still unfolding) in various parts of the world.
His accounts of various human communities draw on real data from a wide variety of academic fields, including isotope analysis, pollen analysis, tree-ring analysis, seismology, agronomy, archaeology, sociology, and even the history of religion. His explanations of each of these disciplines are lucid without oversimplification. But, the strength of the book comes from the the way he combines results from all these fields to create straightforward narratives of what might have happened as various communities rose and fell.
If I were I high school "social studies" teacher I would be talking to my principal today, saying "I want to put together an honors-level geography course and I want to use this as the textbook."
I do have one criticism. The subject matter of the book is tremendously consequential to people alive today, and hopefully "policy wonks" in governments will study the book and take it seriously. But, the title is a bit inflammatory. What's more, Prof. Diamond makes sure to explain the significance for the United States of his accounts of the demise of various ancient communities. Some of these explanations extrapolate from ancient situations to modern in a way that isn't quite as solid as the rest of the book. Diamond's extrapolations are very cleary marked as such. However, I am still afraid that they, combined with the title, will provide an excuse for people to dismiss the book as a "pro-environment anti-business" ideological polemic. That would be unfortunate, because it is actually balanced and nuanced in its explanation of the human condition.
469 of 511 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is no somewhere else,
About 15 years ago, I was shocked to read the results of an American aerial survey of roads in remote areas of the country, which concluded that there is (in 1990) no place in the continental United States that is more than about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from the nearest road. At Philmont Scout Ranch in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rockies in NE New Mexico, to which many hundreds of Scouts travel each summer for an extended "wilderness" hike, the paths, directions and speeds of each of the flood of hiking parties is managed on a wall-size map in their war room, much like a flight control room of a modern airport. The conscious purpose of the war room is to present "the illusion of wilderness" to the hikers, by preventing them from seeing that there are crowds of other hikers nearby in every direction, only hidden by a bend, a ridge, a ravine.
In one of Jared Diamond's earlier books, Guns, Germs and Steel, he explored the role of man's natural environment in shaping the unique nature of the human societies that emerged in different regions of the world. It was backed by a prodigious body of research spanning anthropology, physiology, botany, archeology, animal behavior and climatology, to name only a few fields. Although his conclusions were satisfying and plausible, the subjects were too remote in time to garner more than a smile and a nod of the head. The paucity of detailed evidence regarding the biologic emergence of man, and man's development of agriculture, animal domestication and civilization, dooms Dr. Diamond's conclusions on those subjects to the realm of conjecture.
Now we are presented with the other side of the equation: the role of man's behavior in shaping the environments in which he lives. While Professor Diamond seems to go to great lengths to present us with a glimmer of optimism in the face of a substantial body of contrary information, the thrust of this new volume is that today, anybody's environmental problem is everybody's problem. His discussions of past failed (and successful) societies serve as a sequence of progressively more complex environmental scenarios highlighting the choices-both intentional and unintentional-that determined the ultimate outcome.
One wonders how intelligent people in those societies that ultimately failed seemed to have made decisions that, at least in retrospect, were patently damaging to their future survival. Diamond offers numerous examples of contemporary environmental challenges for which perfectly rational individuals and governments have made, and continue to make, decisions that are damaging to their future survival.
Over thirty years ago, JW Forrester, then at MIT, developed a computer simulation called World II, which modeled scores of human and environmental factors, in order to see what future the model would predict for the world. In brief, the simulation demonstrated catastrophic population collapse between 2040 and 2060, regardless of how the values of variables and their interactions were adjusted. The only stable simulations required that the world population be set to below its current (1970) value. Well, we can set aside their conclusions as peculiar to their particular set of assumptions, but in Jared Diamond's current book, he concludes that each of the individual, massive environmental issues covered in his various examples will reach catastrophic crisis by about 2050, if they are not addressed promptly and in a dramatic way. I find the correlation sobering.
From the standpoint purely of readable history, Collapse offers more credible conclusions about the decline of the societies it surveys than does the massive 12 volumes of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. Toynbee leaned heavily on Hegelian dialectic, Diamond on compelling archeological studies and on the physical sciences. Though a professor of geography, Diamond's formal training was in biology and physiology. Add to that his lifelong studies in ornithology, which have contributed to his wide-ranging travels in third world countries, and it should come as no surprise that the science presented here stands up fairly well to close scrutiny.
This is a book that will certainly appeal to historians, environmentalists and folks who want to know what the tree-hugging fuss is all about. For those who might be disinclined toward environmentalist assertions, this book can serve as a framework for the serious concerns that must be addressed in some fashion.
208 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History, ecology, technology, politics, and a warning rolled into one...,
This review is from: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Paperback)
A debate between two camps continues to rage. One side thinks that the modern world continues to careen toward a non-sustainable future and impending doom. The other group thinks that "environmentalists" exaggerate their claims about a coming ecological crash. As usual the sides remain somewhat unproductively polarized with neither giving an inch to the other. This book's title exposes where Jared Diamond's sympathies stand, but he also takes some surprisingly neutral views. For one, he claims that some contemporary businesses have in fact successfully taken environmental concerns into consideration, and that these concerns have made them money and boosted their respect globally. Diamond doesn't believe that big business and environmental groups necessarily remain indissoluble enemies. And he goes further by suggesting that environmentalists should unabashedly praise those companies that have suceeded in balancing economics with ecology. "Collapse", though admittedly more slanted towards the environmental side of the continuum, nonetheless tries to narrow the gap between the two aforementioned camps.
"Collapse" takes the reader on a dizzying historical and global tour. The chapters weave in and out of modern, ancient, and medieval worlds. Along the way Diamond extrapolates which behaviors have threatened (or arguably are currently threatening) a significant inexorable decline in a particular society's population. By juxtaposing past and present societies he hopes to reveal the simularities between societies that no longer exist and the trends of the world today. The book surreptitously asks whether our current world is threatened by a global collapse.
Diamond uses a "five-point framework" to analyze various societies. These comprise certain behaviors and characterstics, namely, environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and a society's responses to its environmental problems. With these tools in hand, Diamond travels to Montana, Easter Island, the Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, the ancient and medieval Anasazi cultures in North America, the Maya, Norse Greenland, New Guinea, Tikopia, Tokugawa-era Japan, Rwanda, Hispaniola, China, and Australia. Each of these societies, both past and present, receive analysis in terms of the five point framework. For example, the Greenland Norse collapsed, according to Diamond, due to all five factors. Whereas Easter Island collapsed only due to three. But Diamond also discusses past successes such as Tikopia and Tokugawa Japan. These two societies managed to control their resources and avoid the others' fate. And those fates included horrifying ends in wars, mass starvation, and sometimes cannabalism.
The discussion of Norse Greenland receives three full length chapters (which at times seems a little too lengthy). Why? In a talk that Diamond gave for the Long Now Foundation in 2005 (downloadable from the Foundation's website), he claimed that he wanted to show that collapse doesn't only happen to non-europeans. Some skeptics may claim that collapse only happens to so-called "primitives". But the Norse Greelanders were medieval Europeans who desperately tried to hold on to their European Christian roots in Greenland, but they all ended up dying sometime in the 15th century. The reasons why remain somewhat mysterious, though archeologists have found evidence of starvation and cannabalism at the long abandoned sites. By contrast, the Greenland Inuit long outlasted the Norse.
Diamond thinks that societies also need to re-evaluate their values to survive in different climates. In addition, when the elite begin isolating themselves that often spells trouble for a society. Diamond sees this happening in our world today (in "gated" communities and private funding for personal amenities) as well as evidence for all of the above listed five points. He argues that our current course appears unsustainable unless we take action. In the end, he does leave room for hope (as evidenced by the societies that "saved" themselves and peoples).
Diamond also addresses the refutations often leveled against the environmental side of the spectrum. One-liners such as "technology will save us" or "the environment must be balanced against the economy" receive their own refutations. Finally, he presents justifications for his comparative method of juxtaposing and extrapolating the problems of past societies onto our own.
Diamond never argues that the contemporary world will inevitably collapse. He does admit to seeing many danger signs. In the end, whether or not readers agree with Diamond's conclusions, the book does a good job of presenting collapse as at least one of the possible outcomes of a society's actions. Much of the modern world doesn't seem to accept or even to realize this possibility. At the very least governments and citizens need to be aware that irresponsible actions could lead to a collapse. Infinite progress and expansion isn't a given. Though this book could have included much more information (along with analyses of many more now extinct societies), it provides a good foundation for thinking and debate on this increasingly important subject. And though it has its flaws "Collapse" nonetheless represents a book that environmental skeptics will have to contend with.
338 of 382 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of mass marketing,
I'm an old fan of Diamond, but with each book I like him less. "Collapse" isn't really about science or ecology or the lessons of history, but how to sell books. Take a no-argument topic (People can destroy their environment,) add urgency (This is happening to us!)get some research assistants to dig up what interesting facts they can (even if they get them wrong,) and get a saleable author to provide some paragraph links and put his name to it, and everyone makes a buck (except the consumer.)
You can keep publishing costs down by eliminating editors and proofreaders, e.g.: "...for the benefit of the corpses of the souls" instead of "the souls of the corpses." (p.237)
There are plenty of astonishing facts too: We learn that the Norse ships took "a week or more" to cover the 2000-plus sailing miles from Norway to Greenland (Given the means of navigation and the weather in those latitutes, truth is, six weeks would have been a quick trip.) But then time ran backward in those days, because, according to Diamond, Erik the Red assumed that artifacts he found on his first visit to Greenland were left by the Vinland Skraelings. (Trouble is, the discovery of Vinland came 20 years after the discovery of Greenland, so at the time Erik knew nothing of either the land or the people his son Leif later came upon.)
Virtually all of the information on Norse settlements and culture is lifted from a single source, The Vikings, The North Atlantic Saga, by Fitzshugh and Ward eds., published by the Smithsonian in conjunction with its recent touring exhibition. There's no reason to believe Diamond actually read any of the other books in his bibliography, or he'd realize much of the scholarship, such as the work done by Jesse Byock, actually contradicts his conclusions.
Obviously Diamond knows better, but the book was obviously slapped together fast and marketed.
Read the book and enjoy it, but don't trust a single fact in it. Double check everything.
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overshoot and Collapse?,
This is another great contribution to the public's understanding of crucial issues from the UCLA geographer Jared Diamond. COLLAPSE is an examination of several societies that have collapsed (including Easter Island, the Vikings in Greenland, and the Mayas), as well as a few that have solved their ecological problems and succeeded. As in GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL, his previous Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Diamond takes a big-picture view. The lesson is clear -- we must take action to avoid the collapse of our interdependent global society. "Our world society is presently on a non-sustainable course," observes Diamond (p. 498).
My only criticism of this fine book is that it devotes nearly 500 pages to examining various collapses of the past, and only a brief section at the end to examine our present crisis. In Chapter 16 Diamond presents a summary of the evidence that we are in a condition of overshoot, and in danger of collapse if we stay on our present course. He says we need 1) long-term planning, and 2) a reconsideration of core values, in order to avoid going the way of the Mayas.
I would recommend that everyone who reads COLLAPSE also read LIMITS TO GROWTH: The 30-Year Update (see my review), which presents a much more thorough summary of the evidence Diamond mentions in his concluding chapter, and THE UPSIDE OF DOWN: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, by political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon. Once informed of our situation, a crucial book pointing toward the necessary answers is THE SOLAR ECONOMY by Hermann Scheer (see my review).
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Society in decline isn't a done deal,
Diamond uses a five point model to examine societies that have declined and collapsed and those that have thrived due to change. Examining the Mayan culture, the people of Easter Island and others, Diamond presents a thoughtful anaylsis as to how these very different cultures (one isolated with no enemies but a rich land and culture badly overtaxed the other a rich culture that that had many contacts and enemies to complicate their lives)to present models that we can use today to deal with these issues regarding the environment, social pressure and others that face our culture.
Diamond's approach argues that none of these cultures were inferior and that they face the same ecological, environmental and, ultimately, social stressors as we do in our world today. He also takes a look at modern societies (including China and Australia)and how they are faring with the 12 modern types of environmental problems. In another section he looks at the good and bad that big business have contributed to the ecology. It's pretty fair balanced overall.
Diamond suggests that societies ultimately choose to fail or succeed based on their problem solving skills, ability to be flexible and change prior to crisis mode. Essentially we can either be victims or lead the charge for change. I didn't feel that an examination of past cultures was a flaw like some reviewers; he examines them in more depth because we already know the outcome and can more clearly trace the evoltionary path that led to their undoing. That path shows up again when examining our modern world and the ways that we are both feeding choas and living with the resources we have as a nation and world. His point about how important it is to understand all of this in a globalized culture seems valid; there are too many interconnected countires now (unlike the Easter Island situation where they were, essentially, isolated and didn't have an impact on other cultures when they finally fell)and if one falls, ultimately, it will have a domino effect on other countries as well putting our world at peril and not just one or two countries.
A warning about Diamond's book seems appropriate. It can be read by the lay person but the dense material might be daunting for some people. Skimming the book may give you can idea of the content but it won't have the same profound impact on your view of the world as reading it from cover to cover. I agree with Diamond's viewpoint on a single important point--change and flexibility will help a society thrive and a society that remains static, denies what occurs around it will fail.
50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eco-Driven Genocide Powerfully Described in New Tome,
This is a fascinating examination of how ecologically speaking, we may be doomed to repeat history's mistakes due to the lack of their immediacy to our consciousness. The prospect of self-preservation on a societal level can be a daunting one, but it is a profound question author Jared Diamond handles with skill and panache in his sweeping book. He primarily covers four extinct civilizations, showing how human-led environmental damage was at least partially responsible for their devastation and illustrating how the ramifications of such behavior persist today. As an evolutionary biologist trained in biochemistry and physiology, Diamond deftly uses comparative methods in his areas of expertise, such as archaeology and anthropology, to marshal evidence that sustaining societies over time depends primarily on the quality of human interaction with the environment. His arguments are compelling and act as a direct counterpoint to more common thinking where ideology, culture, politics and economics help shape the course of history. But the author is far more focused on what they bear on the far more important relationship society has with its climate, geography and natural resources.
The overriding theme of human history, the author feels, is that societies aren't murdered; they commit suicide. He uses the Viking settlements on the coast of Greenland as a prime example. While it did get colder in Greenland in the early 1400's, it didn't get so cold as to make it uninhabitable. The Inuit survived long after the Norse died out, and the Norse had all kinds of advantages, including a more diverse food supply, iron tools, and ready access to Europe. The problem was that the Norse simply couldn't adapt to the country's changing environmental conditions. Human accountability also shaped the fate of Easter Island where seafaring Polynesians settled over a thousand years ago. They cut the trees for canoes and firewood and used logs to help transport huge statues weighing as much as 80 tons. Eventually, they chopped down all the forests, and their society collapsed in an epidemic of cannibalism. By 1600, all of the trees and land birds on Easter Island were extinct. Diamond covers similarly fatalistic behavior in the native American Anasazi tribe in the southwestern U.S. and the Mayan civilization in Central America.
Diamond's perspective is not just historical, as he discusses in depth what is happening now in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, China, and Australia, as well as in Montana, a state that once was among the wealthiest in the nation but now struggles with poverty, population decline, and environmental problems. The author remains hopeful by giving more uplifting examples of societies that have found ways to sustain themselves without overexploiting their environments. His conclusion is that what determines a society's fate is how well its leaders and citizens anticipate problems before they become crises and how decisively a society responds. But as we know, and as Diamond corroborates, many societies, including ours, suffer from short-sightedness and political selfishness, which prevent us from seeing the scope of the potential destruction. But it is hopeful, the author asserts, that the U.S. has reduced major air pollutants by a quarter over the past thirty years, as energy consumption and population have risen forty percent. The author's guarded optimism signals a need to take so-called green issues more seriously than we have in the past. Strongly recommended reading.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Few Positive Books in the 'Collapse" literature,
Reading the collapse of civilization literature over the years it is easy to forget that not every society has made catastrophic blunders. While it certainly seems that the list of failures is a lot longer than that of the successes, one of the joys of Diamond's latest book is that he discusses some of these success stories at considerable length, pointing out in particular where human choice and not just blind luck made the difference. Even some that ultimately failed, like the Norse colony in Greenland that survived for 450 years, demonstrate that a tough people led by strong leaders can cope with adversity, even extreme adversity for a very long time.
Diamond also shows clearly that poor leadership and greed by the ruling elite consistently results in disaster. The chiefs of Easter Island, the ancient Maya kings, and more recently the long, sorry list of corrupt rulers in Haiti, Rwanda, and other Third World countries are examples. These contrast with Japanese rulers during the Tokugawa era who made sure that all the forests were not cut down, even if their subjects had to adopt more sustainable diets, and with more or less democratically elected leaders like Joaquin Balaguer of the Dominican Republic who also saw to it that his country's forests were not stripped bare leaving it a Haiti-like wasteland.
Although Diamond's study would have been improved by more careful editing, a point made by other reviewers, he makes up for some excessively detailed accounts with excellent and cogent summaries. I believe `Collapse' is actually better than his Pulitzer prize winning `Guns, Germs and Steel'. In that book he sets out to disprove the idea that racial superiority somehow accounts for the political and economic success of Western countries compared to those of the Third World.
To my way of thinking that is a straw man. Few people well read in world history and economics hold such a view today. The historical record does however show clearly that certain cultural values, combined with geography and natural resources, do indeed play a decisive role in determining societal winners and losers. (See my review of `The Wealth and Poverty of Nations' by David Landes).
The harsh reality, as Diamond clearly shows, is that one way or another the collapse of most societies over the centuries has been tied to too many people producing too little food - the Law of Malthus. Sometimes the food shortage is caused by natural causes, e.g. sudden climate change like a severe and prolonged drought. Other times it is either caused or exacerbated by human negligence, such as prolonged slash and burn practices in fragile jungle rainforests or overgrazing by human introduced and managed flocks of sheep and cattle.
The uplifting, even inspiring part of `Collapse' is Diamond's description of how even isolated, primitive people could figure out how to beat Malthus' Law. The population of tiny Tikopia Island in the South Pacific has stayed at about 1,200 over 3,000 years because very early on its inhabitants realized that they would have to limit their population growth or die of starvation.
Other groups such as the Inuit of northern Canada and Greenland and the Pueblo in the Southwest U.S. have successfully overcome environmental challenges for hundreds, even thousands of years. Even the communist Chinese, after a series of disastrous economic decisions in the 1960s and 70s, finally decided that population growth would have to be curtailed if China and its people were to survive. While we may lament such policies as forced abortion, looked at from the vantage point of the Chinese leadership trying to bring sweeping but necessary social change to a largely backward rural nation of a billion people, it is hard to see how anything but strict enforcement of the one child per family policy would have any hope of success.
It is clear from Diamond's analysis that control of population growth and hence consumption of scarce resources (most importantly food, energy, and water) is the single most important factor in a society's avoidance of collapse. Controlling population growth and conserving vital resources can only be achieved by wise and effective political leadership, whether from the bottom up or top down. These are the lessons to be taken from a very fine and enlightening book. Whether our present civilization can heed the warning signs of collapse is another matter. Failure to do so is likely to result in a future world vividly and disturbingly described by James Howard Kunstler in `The Long Emergency'. Along with `The Collapse of Complex Societies' by Joseph Tainter these books constitute a trilogy of must read books about the impending crisis facing our species on this little blue planet. It may be tiny and obscure in the grand scheme of things but it's all we've got.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Historical Review, but Somewhat Flawed,
This review is from: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Paperback)
Although I don't agree with the conclusions drawn by Mr. Diamond (is that his real name?), I nevertheless really enjoyed reading this book. He does an fine job of pulling together various historical societies and delving in to how they collapsed. From a historical perspective, this should be a 5 star review. However, there are some flaws:
1. Mr. Diamond loves to speak with total authority. While I will admit that he does come across as an authority figure, he is often very adamant regarding facts that are impossible to prove. While I appreciate his analytical skill and feel that he is probably correct a lot, he would benefit from a little more modesty. As a result, the reader must be careful to realize that much of what he presents as a factual conclusion may in fact only be his best educated guess.
2. While he does a great job bringing facts together, he often seems to pick and chose the facts that will best promote his forgone conclusions. For example, he uses Rawanda and its ethic carnage to make a point against overpopulation (one of his pet issues), since the size of the average farm was less than 1 acre (due to fathers splitting the land between many sons) in 1993. However, it seems to me that the problem was not that there was overpopulation, the real issue was the lack of productivity of the populace. For example, in the US, we have a few huge farms and the rest of us do something other than farm. Therefore, most of us aren't concerned about killing each other to inherit that extra acre of farmland. Mr. Diamond doesn't even pursue that possibility.
3. Late in the book, Mr. Diamond begins presenting lessons for us, gleaned by him from the failed societies. Again, he only focuses on the items that fit his agenda, and overlooks information that doesn't conform. Unfortunately, this very nearly knocks this book into the political realm, instead of allowing us to view it as a tremendous historical review. For example, on page 491 he mentions a 1986 study that estimated that humans were already using or wasting about 1/2 of the Earth's photosynthic capacity(!!!). This would be a big deal, as it implies that our future food and timber options are very limited (let's ignore the fact that crop yields have continued to soar since 1986). Yet Mr. Diamond treats this as a fact, and lists this as one of the obstacles our society must overcome. And, he doesn't give a footnote or even name the study!
I hate to seem negative on the book, because it is an impressive work in many ways and I really wanted to give it 5 stars based on the historical information presented. Unfortunately, given the weaknesses listed, I may be a little too generous with 4 stars.
Still, if you want to learn more about many societies that collapsed, then this book is for you. It's easy to read and to become caught up in. Just guard against falling for every conclusion and "fact" he throws at you, and you'll be OK.
52 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the Best, Does Offer Some Contributions,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.
The book does not live up to the title, and one wonders if the book was inspired by the edited work Catastrophe & Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series) whose basic point is that disasters turn into catastrophe when societies fail to plan and adjust.
On balance, I do not recommend the book to anyone that reads widely, and especially in the ecological economics literature from Herman Daly back through E.O. Wilson The Future of Life, Martin Rees OUR FINAL HOUR: A Scientist's warning : How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century--On Earth and Beyond, J. F. Rischard High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them, or the more obvious Club of Rome and that Brown guy. Indeed, for the general audience, J. F. Rischard remains the best overview and the best value.
Having said that, I do not discourage the purchase and absorption of this book. Much of it can be skipped through if you have read other books that do a better job on any individual item (to his credit, the author provides an excellent bibliographic review in his expanded notes section). It is largely a kludge of the ideas and investigations of many others, but does--and this is why it gets four stars from me--pull together in one place, in a very interesting manner, a broad variety of investigations and conclusions.
Here are the highlights that I found worthy of reflection:
1) Gives useful emphasis to the word "ecocide" while bringing forward excellent reviews of how "creeping normalcy" and "landscape amnesia" can undermine any perception of danger or urgency.
2) Summarizes, but not as elegantly as J. F. Rischard, 12 problems and a 5-point framework of contributing factors.
3) Focuses on big business as the core player that must reform, but also emphasizes that big business will not reform until the public lives up to its responsibility for changing the rules of the game and making green business profitable.
4) Provides an impressive, nuanced, and helpful view of China and non-traditional threats coming out of China, including invasive plant and animal species, and noxious gases leaving China with the winds.
5) Alarms regarding Australia, the English-speaking outpost in Asia, which appears much more fragile and vulnerable to collapse than generally appreciated.
6) Explores the destructive nature of religious values that cause deforestation or over-population or other ills that impact on the commons.
7) Bluntly relates environmental instability to political instability. Max Manwaring does it better in his edited work "Environmental Security," but for the general audience, these few pages are important.
8) Provides a concise and helpful thrashing of the 12 or so most common objections to being prudent about our environment.
Deep inside this book, and finally summarized by the author, is a focus on the failure of decision making at all levels of society. A failure to anticipate, a failure to perceive, a failure to attempt remediation, or even if attempted, a failure to achieve remediation, are all failures of each group and its leadership.
The author ends thoughtfully by noting that resolution of our imbalances will come one way or the other. The only choice we have is between peaceful planned sustainable changes, and catastrophic imposed "natural" corrections through war, famine, pestilence, and genocide.
I am very glad to have purchased this book, and would note that it did not make the cut via online browsing, but when examined in an airport bookstore, was found, once in hand and on direct inspection, to be worth the price of purchase and the time to absorb.
Edit of 20 Dec 07. In a larger s trategic context, what I do not see in this book is an emphasis on strategic culture or getting a grip on global reality. The USA has been living on the backs of everyone else, and only now is it starting to sink in that we are part of an The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People where everyone is is accutely conscious of The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World and our The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project).
The USA is today (20 Dec 07) a "failed state," and while it is not officially classified as one, it is relevant to note that in 2007 there are 177 failed states, up from 75 in 2005. Bush-Cheney have been terrible to America, and to the rest of the world. Absent a miraculous turning out of a true majority in 2008, America is headed for a depression.
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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (Paperback - December 27, 2005)
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