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Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail Paperback – December 28, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

“Ophuls’ clear writing, thorough research and elegant logic make his treatise a thoughtful, discussing-provoking work.”

Review

"Ophuls superbly synthesizes a huge amount of literature and presents the synthesis in an easily accessible format with beautifully clear prose. He doesn’t sugarcoat his message. There's no false optimism here. The patient (modern human civilization) is critically and perhaps terminally ill, and Ophuls explains why with enormous skill."

Thomas Homer-Dixon, University of Waterloo, author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 116 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1479243140
  • ISBN-13: 978-1479243143
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Edward on March 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
After I finished reading this, I was surprised to find that there were no reviews listed. That may be due, in part, to the fact that this book is fairly recent. At the risk of overstatement, I think that this book covers some of the most important problems that we will ever deal with as human beings, and I sincerely hope that more people read it. Overall, it is rare that I find myself in such strong agreement with social commentary.

In general, the book deals with the realities of natural resource limitations, social complexity (and its accompanying problems), and the conquest->commerce->affluence->decadence cycle. While there are many books out there that take a hard look at current political and economic realities, many of them look at the specific problems that we face at the moment. In this book, by contrast, the author points out how many of our major crises today are just manifestations of human trends that have existed for millennia.

I have, prior to reading this book, come to many of the realizations that the author discusses. However, I still found a lot of new insights. Also, the author was able to articulate the problems much more style than I ever could (with the exception of the repeated use of the word "upshot" which I always read as the opposite of what it actually means). The conclusions of this book aren't all that positive, but I firmly believe that problems can't be fixed until they are acknowledged.

I really wish that more people would read books like this and acknowledge the problems that we are facing. I can't recall how many conversations I have had where I bring these kinds of issues up and people just shrug it off. It seems that most people would prefer to "bury their heads in the sand" than face reality.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jay Hanson on April 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
IMMODERATE GREATNESS is a powerful little book. William Ophuls has avoided jargon while explaining how ecological exhaustion, exponential growth, entropy (net energy), complexity, moral decay and practical failure are cause civilizations -- including ours -- to collapse. Moreover, Ophuls sees no solution to these problems because the root of these problems is our evolved nature. I have been studying these problems for 20 years and found nothing here that I disagree with.

This book is concise and aimed at a wide audience. It should be read by everyone who cares about the future.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Adam Dresser on April 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was surprised how brief this book was, but Ophuls really covers the ground needed to lead to inescapable and powerful conclusions. It's not a pretty forecast, but it's hard to find fault with any of his analysis. I've been interested in this topic for a long time so I had read many of his reference materials already. I'm not sure this book would work well as an introduction, but then, I can't really speak to that.

Too early to tell how much this book has changed my life, but it certainly brought some ideas firmly together and put my head in a spin for a few days. It will change the way you look at the world. To my way of thinking, it's a good thing to know what's coming. This book doesn't spell out details, but clearly outlines the broad trends that are shaping the future. As I said, the conclusions are inescapable. No one can forecast the exact times things will go down, but Ophuls' vision of the future will surely be here soon enough.

As short as it is, it's very well worth the time. I might even use the word Masterpiece. Very well crafted. Everyone should read it.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By John L. Edwards on May 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'll be honest -- I don't disagree with much of what Mr. Ophuls proposes as challenges to long-term sustainability of civilizations. His chapter headings and opening paragraphs are solid. But much of his supporting material is presented in the form of metaphors, many if not most of which appear very suspect to me.

As a mathematician (and juggler by the way which is referenced in chapter 4) I found he cited chaos theory and fault tolerance incorrectly. That's fair enough -- neither are critical fields for his chosen profession. But when an author reaches for support from a field of study where he has little expertise he needs to get an expert to review his usage, and I don't think that occurred here. In the case of chaos theory Mr. Ophul's example actually contradicts his larger argument regarding complexity, and fault tolerance (touched in a glancing blow) is left standing on the dock in spite of its tremendous importance to his subject matter.

Jugglers drop and "miss" all the time. Mr. Ophul considers this a crisis-inducing failure, but with seasoned performers the show goes on. Any one juggler can step out of the set on a moment's notice, retrieve the dropped object, eat a sandwich, speak to the audience, do anything really, while the other jugglers continue without him. When he's ready he steps back into position and the other jugglers reincorporate him into the set seamlessly. That's fault tolerance -- the size and complexity of the system gives it resilience. Civilization does not come to an end because of one dropped ball. This isn't an indictment to the author's core message, but it is a concept he himself raised and then didn't address. You can't do that in persuasive writing without losing a lot of credibility.
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