Customer Review

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Historical Review, but Somewhat Flawed, May 22, 2006
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.
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Location: Dallas, TX USA

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