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The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization Hardcover – International Edition, October 31, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0676977226 ISBN-10: 0676977227 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; 1ST edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0676977227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0676977226
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,147,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With easy-to-understand terminology and a mountain of research, Toronto author Homer-Dixon (The Ingenuity Gap) faces down imminent, unavoidable and catastrophic threats to modern civilization, keeping a wary eye on mankind's chances to adapt. Methodically illustrating how the modern world is doomed to suffer a large-scale breakdown, Homer-Dixon enumerates the "tectonic stresses" on civilization-population growth disparities, energy scarcity, environmental damage, and economic instabilities-and the "multipliers"-increasing global connectivity and small groups' ability to enact destruction-that help propel them. Woven throughout are well-illustrated comparisons between the current state of industrialized nations-especially the U.S.-with the unsustainable complexities, and subsequent downfall, of the Roman Empire. With each page, humanity's situation seems more dire, but Homer-Dixon argues that the force of "catagenesis"-the "commonplace occurrence of renewal through breakdown"-means that good will come from the collapse of civilization as we know it. Unfortunately, he offers few practical suggestions as to how we can prepare for civilization's inevitable failure, and little evidence on which to hang hope. As a result, the book takes on a tone of doomsday prophecy directly at odds with its title. Where Homer-Dixon succeeds admirably is in explaining exactly why modern stresses are so worrisome and the outcomes that neglect could cause.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


“Thomas (Tad) Homer-Dixon is the giant-killer of overwhelming issues.”
Toronto Star

“[Thomas Homer-Dixon] is just the man for the job. . . . The book introduces general readers to a number of key concepts pursued by Homer-Dixon in his academic studies on the links between population growth, environmental degradation and global security. It is his ability to delineate those links that makes The Upside of Down such a sobering and stimulating read.”
Toronto Star

“Homer-Dixon [is] a magpie of knowledge.”
Times Colonist (Victoria)

“Thomas Homer-Dixon . . . has taken off the gloves with humanity. No more talk of what might occur. . . . A crash is inevitable.”
The Globe and Mail

“This is an ambitious book. . . . Those familiar with Homer-Dixon’s earlier work . . . will not be surprised by the wide-ranging scope and technical virtuosity of his writing. By any measure, this book is an impressive achievement. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. . . . for those who want a clear and accessible overview of this catastrophist debate, and one with a Canadian flavour . . . this is a useful place to start.”
The Globe and Mail

"For over a decade, Thomas Homer-Dixon has provided that rare thing: a bridge between leading-edge research and the lay reader. Now, addressing the great problems of our time, he points us towards a path forward."
–Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, author of Imperial Grunts and The Coming Anarchy

"Anyone who doubts the seriousness of the human predicament should read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s brilliant The Upside of Down. Anyone who understands the seriousness should also read it for Homer-Dixon’s insightful ideas about how to make society more resilient in the face of near-inevitable environmental and social catastrophes."
–Paul Ehrlich, President of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb

Praise for Thomas Homer-Dixon:
"Thomas Homer-Dixon is a sort of Bruce Chatwin of ideas. [His writing is] addictive."
National Post

"The greatest strength of The Ingenuity Gap is in Homer-Dixon’s ability to illustrate the thin line between order and chaos, prosperity and starvation, or compassion and carelessness in today’s world. The book is a wake-up call to all citizens to take notice of our collective deterioration and therefore . . . it has the potential to be one of the most important and revolutionary books of recent years."
Calgary Herald

"Thomas Homer-Dixon is one of the few people on the planet who could have tackled what he defines as the world’s overriding issue: the yawning ‘ingenuity’ gap between the need for practical solutions to complex problems, from global warming to Third World poverty, and the actual supply of workable ideas."

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Customer Reviews

I'm not sure if Thomas Homer-Dixon has it all, but his book is very well researched and referenced.
Phillip Boustridge
The reward for reading this book carefully is that it helps us worry more efficiently about the future with a dollop of hope that worrying well can make a difference.
Barbara B. Torrey
We need to understand what can be learned from that Empire offer, and Homer-Dixon demonstrates how pertinent the lessons are today.
Stephen A. Haines

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By James A. Vedda VINE VOICE on April 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I read this book I was reminded of Paul Kennedy's 1993 book "Preparing for the 21st Century." Like Kennedy and other authors in recent decades, Homer-Dixon assesses major global problems and trends with an eye toward how such stresses have converged throughout human history to cause breakdown or collapse of whole societies. The "tectonic stresses" he identifies are:

Population stress (megacities; differing rich/poor growth rates)

Energy stress (especially from scarcity of oil)

Environmental stress (land, water, forests, fisheries)

Climate stress (atmosphere)

Economic stress (instability; widening income gaps)

None of this is surprising, having been identified elsewhere in the literature at least as far back as the 1972 study "Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome. But the author eloquently lays out the scenarios, makes historical analogies, and explains the interplay between the stresses in language that concerned citizens, and even policy-makers, can understand. This in itself is a great service to the reader.

Like Kennedy, Homer-Dixon will be criticized for not sufficiently addressing solutions to these problems. Indeed, the "upside" in his title doesn't really manifest itself until about the last 50 pages of the book, and some readers may find what's offered to be inadequate. His solutions should be common sense (which can be uncommon in complex societies): design for resilience, be prepared to make the best of change. His belief that endless economic growth is overrated and even detrimental will not please everyone. And part of his argument is that collapse is probably inevitable, so we should strive to emerge from the disaster as good or better than we were before.
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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Gail Fleeton on January 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely outstanding book - passionate, original, and easily accessible. It's far better than Homer-Dixon's The Ingenuity Gap, which was in itself groundbreaking. Homer-Dixon has a striking ability to bring together diverse ideas and research into one larger and compelling theme. He is also one of the few people in the world who really grasps the complexities and dangers of the human predicament in its totality. Many readers won't like this book's argument - that some form of crisis in the future is now extremely likely, that we'd best get ready for it, and that (if we're lucky) it might ultimately produce some good - but after finishing this book I find these conclusions inescapable and largely correct.

The book is rich with new ideas, on practically every page. I do wish the author had given us more on how "open-source" architectures on the Internet could be the basis for new forms of democracy, and for mobilization of non-extremists, but clearly he's just beginning to work through these ideas.

If you want to know about the role of energy scarcity in the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the sources of modern capitalism's unchallengeable obsession with economic growth, the causes of people's widespread denial of our global crisis, the relationship between rising complexity and social breakdown, or the real story on global income inequality - the list of subjects covered goes on and on - this book is unmatched. But don't expect that it won't challenge some of your preconceptions. The book is definitely not for intellectual sissies, nor for people whose minds are already made up.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Saleem Ali on November 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Homer-Dixon can be credited for putting the term "environmental security" on the radar of policy makers and defense analysts more than a decade ago. His careful analysis of resource scarcity and its potential linkages to conflict found convergence with the work of veteran journalist Robert Kaplan, who wrote a subsequent essay and book called "The Coming Anarchy." (Kaplan is one of the cover reviewers in this book as well). This discourse gained traction with the Clinton administration but was subsequently contested by political scientists for perhaps being too linear and lacking complex multivariate interactions. Homer-Dixon then went on to write a book called The Ingenuity Gap in which he suggested a theory of technical innovation as being the determining factor in development disparities.

In this latest book, Homer-Dixon again considers global environmental crises and seeks to draw historical comparisons with Rome, the San Francisco Earthquake and other catastrophic events to understand the resilience of human societies. In some ways the title is reminiscent of the Taoist refrain that was frequently heralded after 9/11, that "disaster and opportunity have the same symbol." (In Chinese characters they are depicted by the same symbol as well).

Similar in cadence to Jared Diamond's book "Collapse," the book attempts to cover a wide range of fields and genres of literature. However, many of the ideas presented here have appeared elsewhere. For example, the analogy of plate tectonics that Homer-Dixon uses is similar to Lester Thurow's usage of the analogy in his book "The Future of Capitalism.
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