Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2020
I grew up playing in the ruins of the ancient Anasazi. Like the giant, carved stone heads on Easter Island, Anasazi ruins stand in the Arizona desert like mysterious totems of a civilization that simply disappeared from the face of the Earth. As a child, the disappearance of the Anasazi was a mystery that fueled my imagination. How could an entire population of people simply vanish?
Growing up in the Space Age, an era when every American looked up into the night sky and dreamed of walking on the moon, the idea of space travel and the existence of UFO’s enthralled me. I devoured Erich von Däniken’s book, "Chariots of the Gods?—Unsolved Mysteries of the Past," studying the photos that seemed to prove ancient astronauts had visited the Earth. So, it wasn’t difficult for me to theorize that the Anasazi were ancient astronauts who had, for unknown reasons, simply climbed aboard a spacecraft and left, leaving behind their ruined dwellings and a centuries-old mystery.
Long after I had grown up and moved away from Arizona, I forgot about the baffling ancient Anasazi. I never quite stopped believing, though, that ancient astronauts could account for their disappearance. However, their actual fate, whatever it was, remained a mystery.
Then I read Jared Diamond’s book "Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." In scientific detail, Jared Diamond explains exactly what happened to the ancient Anasazi. He also explains the fates of other past societies that have disappeared, leaving behind their stone temples, monuments, and buildings as measurements of their previously massive populations and ingenuity. In an expansive volume of 560 pages, Diamond relates the purpose and meaning of the carved stone heads on Easter Island as well as how and why the societies of the Easter Islanders, Pitcairn and Henderson Pacific Islanders, Mayans, and Norse Greenland Vikings all eventually collapsed and disappeared. Without revealing the ending, let me just say that Diamond proves that UFO’s and ancient astronauts had nothing whatsoever to do with the disappearance of any of these civilizations, though, to keep you interested, cannibalism does.
Importantly, as fascinating as they are, the fates of all those ancient peoples are not the focus of Diamond’s book. Instead, Diamond is interested in answering the question: Could what happened to them happen to us? The chilling answer is yes. Using detailed and explicit examples, he shows us how current, modern societies—we—are following the same path to total demise.
"Collapse," however, is not just a doomsday book about what we as a society are doing wrong that, if not corrected, will lead to our destruction. It is also a how-to manual, offering an array of possible solutions and giving positive examples of societies that have effectively applied the solutions to the problems we are facing. It is also a wake-up call, a call to arms, an alarm that everyone should hear and heed.
I think "Collapse" is an important book, one that I have added to my “must-read” list, that is, books I recommend others read. If you decide to read it, and I hope that you will, you will discover that it was originally published in 2005. I assure you, though, that the book not only remains relevant today but also, I think, continues to grow in importance as time goes on.
You may also find that "Collapse" reads likes a college textbook. The basis for "Collapse" was, in fact, first developed as a college course Diamond taught at Stanford University. As thorough and scientific as it is, Diamond is not short on providing fascinating details that kept me interested and helped me get through the entire volume. By the time I finally finished it, I felt as though I had successfully monitored Diamond’s course, and I had learned a lot.