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on December 14, 2015
"Collapse" is my third Jared Diamond book and, as before, he does not disappoint. Combining Anthropology, History and Geography with Environmental studies of how humans use, and misuse, Natural Resources, Diamond draws interesting insights into past societies and how their fates can relate to our modern world. To support his conclusions Diamond cites the findings and thoughts of many specialists, past and present, as well as his own field research at various locations around the world. With in depth proses "Collapse" gives the reader plenty of food for thought. Starting with his experiences in modern day Montana, Diamond examines the state's issues with logging, mining, soil erosion, water conservation and wildlife, both native and foreign. The insights by local ranchers, miners, loggers, rural and urban people give you an idea on how Montanans feel about government regulations and laws on those issues. Moving on to past societies the author follows the same scenario. In depth histories of such far flung places as Easter Island, Greenland and Iceland, New Guinea and Japan explains how they may have dealt with the same environmental problems that plague us today. I really enjoyed the Easter Island history and how this isolated speck of land moved from a sub-tropical paradise to a barren, treeless island and what role religion may have played in it's story. Up north the Vikings were facing their own problems when they colonized Greenland. At first they did well but conditions slowly deteriorated and when the Inuit returned, the Norse colonist were faced with human competitors as well as environmental challenges. The Anasazi and the Mayans are also looked at, how each society dealt with changing conditions and leaders that failed to address their many problems of population and environment. Changing to modern societies Diamond looks at the Rwandan Genocide, the issues faced by The Dominican Republic and Haiti. China's and Australia's evolving societies and how they are moving into today's world. With all this background Diamond discuses his conclusions and poses questions like; Why do some societies make the wrong decisions? What role do Big Business and the environment play in our future survival? The chapter on Big Business is especially enlightening with segments on Oil and Mining Companies, the Logging and Seafood Industry and how these vital businesses effect our future, for good or ill. Lastly he poses the question of what, if anything, can we learn from past societies's successes and failures. This is a great book, one that covers a lot of issues and gives both sides of the story. Jared Diamond is one of the best writers of science and history. He consistently takes me into new realms of wonder with interesting topics and unique insights. While I experienced no down loading problems with this Kindle edition is did notice a couple of "quality control" issues. Through out the book there were several places where punctuation's were left out and in the chapter on the Vikings in Greenland; the word "fjord" was replaced with "3ord". In neither case was the problem bad enough so that I couldn't follow the text, nonetheless it showed a certain lack of that quality control by the publisher. Regardless, this is a book well worth reading and I'm glad to have it on my Kindle.

Last Ranger
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on April 15, 2017
A great read especially for those who enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel. This book is organized more like an academic paper though not written in an overly academic language. Diamond supports his thesis with several case studies based on evidence from various sciences such as palynology, archaeology and genetics. He argues that societies ability to succeed or fail is based on five variables though not all five are always applicable. These variables include environmental degradation, climate change, conflicts with neighboring peoples, positive relationships especially trade with neighboring peoples and the societies' ability to adapt and change. Though a well researched book, those expecting another Guns, Germs and Steel may be disappointed as this book is a bit more academic.
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on October 20, 2016
Jared Diamond combines numerous fields in his exploration for why societies collapse. The chapters on the Greenland Norse and Hispaniola contrasting Haiti and Dominican Republic provide fascinating past and present examples for how environmental issues can drive societies to economic misery, decline and collapse. Diamond provides many other examples, including a discussion on Montana's environmental and social challenges to start the book. As Diamond points out, the environmental challenges we face today are solvable and controllable by human populations. History provides us lessons we can apply to today's policies. Yet, many societies fail to recognize the challenges faced or fail to solve them. Great read if you're interested in environmental history and how environmental problems drive economic and political instability.
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on April 8, 2014
Collapse by Jared Diamond accurately discusses the concept of societies failing to thrive and falling apart. Within the book, Diamond analyzes societies of the past from all corners of the globe, from the Norse in the Arctic to the Easter Islanders in the Pacific. Through each society Diamond figures out how the territory was set up and what exactly brought down the collapse of the people there. Most of the reasons that societies collapsed had to deal with the environment that they were attempting to live in.

For example, if people attempted to colonize an area that had poor soil, that would lead to a variety of problems for the society. The fields there would only be fit for farming or animal raising for a couple of years before the resources were depleted, and it would take a very long time for them to grow back due to poor soil quality. This would mean growing food would have to take place on a very small scale, limiting resources greatly and increasing the risk of starvation. The poor soil would also lead to slow tree growth, meaning that if a society wasn’t careful then they would use up their lumber supply quicker than they can grow it back, and without wood a society will risk failure due to lack of supplies. Therefore, poor environment quality as well as quick exhaustion of the lands resources helped cause the collapse of a number of societies in the past.

Why would societies of the past overuse their natural resources so fast? Couldn’t they see that their ways of life were destroying the landscape? Diamond answers questions such as these, explaining that while it’s easy for us in the future to see what the problems were, they weren’t so clear for those colonizing the land at the time. Many of the societies that collapsed happened to first settle their while the land was at its best, when the soil was rich and the climate was good for growing, and a time that wouldn’t last. The settlers made their homes there and took advantage of the prosperous times, thinking that that was how life always was in that environment. However, when the climate changed back to its poorer state of being, the settlers were unprepared for the rapid degradation of their environment and experienced a tragic collapse. So the settlers of these collapsed societies didn’t necessarily exhaust their soils and cut down all of their trees on purpose or out of greed, rather it was due to an unexpected change of events for them that left them unprepared for a harsher climate than the one they were used to.

Diamond also discusses modern day societies, those that have been around for centuries and may or may not continue to live on in the future. Examples of such societies range from the lowly populated fields of Montana to the bustling and highly polluted cities of China. Exhausting the soil and other resources of an environment is not just a problem of the past, but rather it lives on today as prevalent as ever before. Resources such as oil, fish and wood are becoming scarce in some areas which will lead to problems in the future if not soon dealt with. Environmental degradation due to abuse by big businesses is a major problem at home and overseas. Pollution from cities and industry are starting to cause problems on a global scale, causing for a need to act to avoid potential collapse.

The well-being of the environment today lies in the hands of government, businesses and public opinion. Governments have the power to create regulations about how the environment can be used or preserved in order to stop resource depletion. Businesses have the choice to abuse the environment around them or try their best to remain a clean company. Public opinion helps shape the ideas of both government and big business, as the people are the ones represented in governments and big businesses will have to listen to their paying customers if they wish to stay profitable. Therefore, the well-being of the environment rests in the hands of the people and their decisions. By being informed about the resources that they use and how those resources are acquired and created, the people will have the ability to make good decisions to support environmentally sound practices that will bring about the betterment of society and environments all around the world.

I personally believe that Diamond did a good job in explaining his facts, keeping the reader both well informed and interested in what he was saying. While some of what Diamond writes could come off as pessimistic, he is merely trying to portray facts about what has happened in the past and what is happening today. His bleak descriptions of reality are not meant to simply scare the reader into believing that the world as we know it is destined for collapse, but rather that people in today’s society just need to be careful with how we treat our environment. Diamond takes time to mention the good things that modern society is doing today to improve our situation, showing that there is still plenty of good news and still hope for the human race.

Overall, Diamond does well in educating the reader about collapsed societies of the past. Not only does he go into detail in explaining what aspects of a society went wrong and led to the eventual collapse, but he also takes time to compare the collapsed societies to similar societies that managed to thrive. By doing this, he not only discusses what doesn’t work, but also what does work in a society. This extra detail in his writing succeeds in further educating the reader about societal success.

In conclusion, Jared Diamond’s book Collapse does a decent job in explaining the environmental problems of yesterday and today, and how they have led to problems in different societies around the world, ranging from pollution to the entire collapse of a society. This well-written book describes the good and the bad in our world and tells the reader exactly what can be done to alter the course of our societies so that they can avoid the risk of potential failure or serious environmental issues such as land degradation or the exhaustion of natural resources. With the knowledge gained from this book, the reader can make educated decisions that can help the bigger picture of society by supporting businesses that are environmentally friendly and avoid the support of practices that might harm the environment further. With the knowledge from this book people can shape our society today so that it can avoid the risk of collapse in the future.
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on December 5, 2016
A brilliant review of historical errors that destroyed and annihilated nations. A clear unambiguous warning about the colossal worldwide blunders our world leaders and their nations are heading towards as humans overpopulate, overheat, over-garbage, and over-deplete our one and only earth.
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I admit I was biased before I even started reading this work. I wanted to know about Easter Island and the Greenland Norse. The other failed societies were of marginal interest to me. Sure I read about Montana, the Anasazi, and the Maya, while skipping over Rwanda, Dominican Republic/Haiti, and Australia. The chapters on China and Pitcairn/Henderson Islands were, however, interesting (the latter especially in the context of Easter Island).

But it is into the two sections on Easter and the Greenland Norse that you can tell the author has poured his soul. They really stand out in what I read of this book - most of it - and perhaps for the history-interested layman they are the most interesting chapters to read. I'm not sure if the author presents anything radically new, but what he does do, which is to provide the lay reader with a useful summary of the present facts and findings on the two mysteries - he does very well. I feel I am now up to speed with some of the latest research into the disappearances of civilized society on Easter and in Norse Greenland. Nowhere else have I seen such useful and up-to-date general/overall accounts of the state of research into these two former societies. It's really required reading for anyone who has an interest in either. Not only does the author present us with - at the time of writing - the latest research, he also considers many pertinent issues himself and comes to his own conclusions. It's as if he took all the latest findings on Easter and Greenland and put them into an comprehensive, accessible, and useful/relevant perspective. What a great place then to start your readings into these two societies.

The essential point about Easter is that the local chiefs spent the resources of the island on mutual competition and self-aggrandizement. The society failed to come together and pool its knowledge and resources. Had it done so, and had it exercized greater forethought and caution as did some of the other societies presented in the book (e.g. the Japan of the daimyo), it might well have survived a deal longer.

The conclusions the author draws on the Greenland Norse are uniquely fascinating. In short, he puts their eventual collapse down to the following issues:

1) The Norse failed to hunt the ringed seals, fish and whales that the Inuit did, they thus deprived themselves of very important sources of winter protein
2) The Norse clung to their European, Christian, and Norwegian identity, values and heritage, and ultimately failed to adapt to their new surroundings - when the little Ice Age arrived they were undone
3) The Norse scorned the Inuit and failed to copy their ways or learn from them
4) Power in Norse Greenlandic society was in the hands of the chiefs and the clergy. These institutions had a vested interest in maintaining their own power and prestige inspite of developments that could have proven beneficial for Norse Greenlandic society as a whole

The chapters concluding the book concerning why societies fail or succeed and what we can learn from them today certainly have their value, even if the points made are at times a little self-evident.

For any reader interested in the two "failed" societies mentioned above, plus many others, you could hardly find a better place to begin than here. Top marks to Jared Diamond.
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on March 6, 2017
Scary but super insightful book. I never realized how close we are to collapsing as a human society, and will be spending a lot more effort on ensuring I and people around me live a sustainable life and prepare for the future.
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on November 13, 2013
This is the follow up book to Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel". "In Guns, Germs and Steel" he discusses the geo-factors that enabled Europe to dominate the world for a few hundred years. In "Collapse" he shows how people's behaviors make the difference between a society's success or failure.

He looks at the current situations in Rwanda, Haiti, Australia, China, and the state of Montana and then compares them to ancient societies that collapsed due to environmental failure; Easter Island, the Anasazi of the Southwestern US, the Mayans of the Yucatan, and the Norse of Greenland. These ancient cultures depleted their natural resources and then disappeared from the face of the earth. Diamond believes that these collapses were not inevitable. An example of this is the survival of the Intuit society that occupied the same general area the Norse Greenlanders who didn't survive, even though they had been there for 500 years.

He discusses civilizations successful addressing of crisis in a top-down matter such as the deforestation that was turned around in Japan early in Tokugawa Era (1603-1867) and in bottom up as was done in-the New Guinea highlands and contrasts how their management of their environments contrasted to the collapsed civilizations.

Diamond's hypothesis is that historically, societal collapse can been attributed to one or more of these factors:

Deforestation and habitat destruction,
Soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses),
Water management problems,
Overhunting,
Overfishing,
Effects of introduced species on native species,
Human population growth,
Increased per-capita impact of people.

To these Diamond adds four factors that are a product of our modern society. They are:

Human-caused climate change
Buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment
Energy shortages
Full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic

The book is divided into four parts, the first part is a short discussion of the environment in Montana. Part two covers societies which have "collapsed"in history. Part three looks at current societies which are in danger of causing their own collapse. In part four Diamond looks at why societies make decisions that lead to disaster.

Diamond concludes the book with a summary of the most serious problems facing us today and the negative impact to us if we don't solve them. He does gives us some reasons to hope because of the examples of societies faced with collapse that addressed their problems and survived.
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VINE VOICEon August 20, 2013
The author, a professor of geography and an environmentalist, has written a lengthy book that is a wakeup call whereby he clearly demonstrates that the sustainability of life on this planet as we know it is in some jeopardy. The depletion of natural resources; the damage and pollution to our lands, waters, and air; and climatic changes combined with an exploding global population, if not significantly addressed, could have unpleasant, even devastating, consequences in only a matter of decades.

In addition to looking at the early 2000's environmental and political situations in Rwanda, Haiti, Australia, China, and the state of Montana, he drives home his point by examining several ancient societies that literally collapsed due to environmental failure, namely, the Eastern Islands, the Anasazi of the Southwestern US, the Mayans of the Yucatan, and the Norse of Greenland, among others.

The relevance of the demise of those societies hundreds of years ago may be questioned. They were highly isolated, if not totally, and obviously had no scientific understanding of their environments. All lived in difficult climatic conditions that could not support their populations. Deforestation, soil erosion, and the elimination of edible species presaged their end. Clearly, the elites of those societies mismanaged resources to enhance their standing, but did they really have the capacity and information to choose to take their societies in different directions and not succumb to their harsh environments?

Inhospitable environments are no stranger to the 21st century, and if the vast amount of scientific and ecological information does not filter into a society, they can find themselves facing the same sort of starvation and man-versus-man confrontations of those older societies. Several areas of Africa are prime examples, and Haiti is not far behind. The author repeatedly makes the point that we live in a globalized, integrated world. The effects of population growth, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climatic changes cannot be confined to isolated areas such as the Easter Islands.

In the 21st century, it is global corporations that have worldwide impacts. While not all of the earth's problems can be laid at the feet of global corporations, the author shows that the oil, mining, timber, and fishing industries have had deleterious impacts on the environment. The author is cautiously optimistic that the public will be able to sufficiently pressure corporations and governments to be far more pro-environment. Some initiatives are underway in some industries with modest successes.

While COLLAPSE is an important book and at times interesting, it is long, slow-going, and repetitious. Regarding his optimism, the author really does not demonstrate that there are effective environmental political movements that have substantial influence in the political process. Is choice more a chimera than not? Furthermore, he assumes that the world's main problems are environmental. Where would he put the huge worldwide divides concerning religion and haves vs. have-nots and the possibilities of nuclear war?

The author tells of his students wondering how it is that someone could cut down the last tree on Easter Island, but one might equally wonder in our democratic era how it is that we have allowed huge private entities to have so much power over our lives and permitted such a mal-distribution of resources and earnings. So who are the stupid and irresponsible: the ignorant people of the Eastern Islands or modern societies with the benefits of science, information, and the study of the past?
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on September 2, 2013
Why I read this book:

I had seen Jared Diamond's earlier book Guns, Germ, and Steel but had never gotten around to reading it. There is something fascinating at why some societies thrive and others fail. I've always had an interest in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. So Collapse was a read I couldn't resist when it came to a book buying round at Amazon.

My one sentence summary:

Societies that over-exploits their resources are doomed to fail, especially in a fragile and hostile environment, unless the problems are recognized and addressed.

Kuddos:

The book is divided into four parts. Being a history nut, I was drawn to part two on past societies. Diamond presents a highly readable and interesting overview of what is known about several societies that have failed and ones that have succeeded. His interpretation about what led to the downfall of the former is compelling and presents some important (context specific) examples.

My second favorite part was the third part about modern societies. I was horrified to read about the ecological context of the Rwandan genocides and the cycle of violence set up by over-population and over-exploitation of precious resources. There are successes mixed in with the horrors that do show hope for the future.

Quibbles:

Diamond tends to go on. Often times I felt like I was re-reading the same information as he recaps often when making his final points for each chapter. I also found my attention wandering when it came to the first and fourth parts of the book that focus on modern Montana and practical lessons.

Final Verdict:

This is a book has a place on my book shelf. It contains a many historical lessons that were learned the hard way. While I'm still getting used to reading books with a message, I think the ones Diamond puts forth are important.
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