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Jared Diamond'sCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeedis the glass-half-empty follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winningGuns, Germs, and Steel. WhileGuns, Germs, and Steelexplained the geographic and environmental reasons why some human populations have flourished,Collapseuses the same factors to examine why ancient societies, including the Anasazi of the American Southwest and the Viking colonies of Greenland, as well as modern ones such as Rwanda, have fallen apart. Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an eco-meltdown is often the main catalyst, he argues, particularly when combined with society's response to (or disregard for) the coming disaster. Still, right from the outset ofCollapse, the author makes clear that this is not a mere environmentalist's diatribe. He begins by setting the book's main question in the small communities of present-day Montana as they face a decline in living standards and a depletion of natural resources. Once-vital mines now leak toxins into the soil, while prion diseases infect some deer and elk and older hydroelectric dams have become decrepit. On all these issues, and particularly with the hot-button topic of logging and wildfires, Diamond writes with equanimity.

Because he's addressing such significant issues within a vast span of time, Diamond can occasionally speak too briefly and assume too much, and at times his shorthand remarks may cause careful readers to raise an eyebrow. But in general, Diamond provides fine and well-reasoned historical examples, making the case that many times, economic and environmental concerns are one and the same. With Collapse, Diamond hopes to jog our collective memory to keep us from falling for false analogies or forgetting prior experiences, and thereby save us from potential devastations to come. While it might seem a stretch to use medieval Greenland and the Maya to convince a skeptic about the seriousness of global warming, it's exactly this type of cross-referencing that makes Collapse so compelling. --Jennifer Buckendorff --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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ISBN-10:  0143036556
ISBN-13:  978-0143036555
Author:  Jared Diamond
Genre:  History, Nonfiction
Publisher:  Penguin
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review by . November 02, 2012
This Springsteen lyric came to mind when reading Diamond's environmental history of major societal collapses.  From his study of ancient collapses like Easter Island, the Mayan empire of Central America, and Norse Greenland, Diamond draws principles that determine when and why societies fail to adapt to environmental changes.  Ignoring their lessons, says Diamond, may leave even us wealthy first world citizens "the privilege of being the last to starve" (p. 520).   …
review by . May 21, 2010
A decade ago I read Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize winning classic "Guns, Germs and Steel". I have just completed reading this recent work by him. Like his previous work, both take the long view of human history, except this one looks specifically at how different societies have collapsed or endured. The author examines about a dozen societies across human history, presents the evidence from various sources such as written records, pollen records, weather data from tree rings, dated human remains, …
review by . December 03, 2007
Diamond has followed the triumph of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies(W.W. Norton & Co., 1997) with another brilliant take on history, this one with more profound implications concerning our imminent future. Read in conjunction with Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury, and in light of recent climatological data, one can't escape the feeling that we are in very deep trouble. In a recent interview …
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