Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

ISBN: 0143036556
ISBN 13: 9780143036555
By: Jared Diamond

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About this book

From the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive is a visionary study of the mysterious downfall of past civilizations.- What happened to the people who made the forlorn long-abandoned statues of Easter Island?- What happened to the architects of the crumbling Maya pyramids?- Will we go the same way, our skyscrapers one day standing derelict and overgrown like the temples at Angkor Wat?Bringing together new evidence from a startling range of sources and piecing together the myriad influences, from climate to culture, that make societies self-destruct, Jared Diamond's Collapse also shows how - unlike our ancestors - we can benefit from our knowledge of the past and learn to be survivors.

Reader's Thoughts


Diamond's Collapse is not as well known as Guns, Germs, and Steel, but it is perhaps the more important of the two. The latter work explains how some countries and cultures came to dominate the modern landscape while others became subordinated or even extinct, thus telling the story of our past. Collapse, however, tells the story of our future, by looking closely at the histories of those cultures that drove themselves over the brink of extinction. This is a heavy read, in every sense of that word, given the hardcover page count nears 600. Diamond has always been the classic academic, possessed of wisdom worthy of a non-academic audience but not gifted with the brevity or mercy of a journalist. But his subject requires him to run long because he has to make a serious point about how nearly impossible it is for a society to recognize its auto-dictated demise. The case studies that impacted me most were those of Easter Island and of Greenland, two thriving societies -- both of which survived for hundreds of years -- that gradually ate everything in their environment without ensuring the survival of sufficient replacement stocks. They ate through the desirable game and were forced to make due with lower status foods. They stripped their environment of soils, leaving them unable to grow anything at all. In the end, at least in Easter Island, they turned to eating one another as a way to survive. Many other case studies are included and diligent Diamond becomes repetitive in walking us through the lessons learned. And he loses the punch of his moral tale in spending the last several chapters summarizing and repeating the lessons learned to the point where you are possibly numbed by them. It's as if Shakespeare, after Juliet's happy dagger is firmly implanted, decided to have Friar John step off the stage, turn up the house lights, and begin an Al Gore-style PowerPoint presentation droning on about the sadness of the lovers' demise. Sometimes a less-in-more approach provides more oomph.Yet through the cloudy repetition and unnecessary detail, you will still see clear stories about the history of humankind that bear directly on us today. It is worth it for that. What you choose to do about it is up to you.

Bookmarks Magazine

Are we doomed, or can the next generation save us from ecological suicide? UCLA geography professor Diamond's provocative, interdisciplinary picture of social decline paints a bleak vision of our future. He writes well, has done impressive research, and tells fascinating stories. Yet, his thesis failed to convince many critics. He connects his stories with common themes, but often draws tenuous links between past and present, especially given today's use of technology and global markets to help solve environmental problems. Many critics also found fault with Diamond's case studies. Some primitive societies like Easter Island, for example, left few clues to their demise. Other examples, like his population-based analysis of Rwanda's genocide, raised questions about the relative role of ecological factors in societies' collapses. Finally, despite Diamond's cautious optimism about our ability to "choose" our destinies, a strain of environmental determinism runs throughout the book. You're doomed if you do__and perhaps doomed if you don't. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.


I did read at least half of this book. The section on Easter Island is one of the most memorable things I've read in the past few years, and I'd recommend it to anyone.This book goes on my guilt shelf because shortly after he got to China, I got too depressed to continue. It's also a bit heavy (literally) for subway reading, and returning to New York from California with it combined with the prospect of learning about China's impact on the environment was just too much for this reader.... So Collapse is sitting on my real-life, non-virtual bookshelf with a JetBlue boaring pass marking my place, frozen in time like the artifact of some extinct civilization.If I were really to make a comprehensive shelf of Books I Feel Like a Lazy Jerk for Not Having Read, Guns, Germs and Steel would also be on it.

Lilo Abernathy

If you care about the world and the survival of the human race, then you must read this book. Period. Buy it now. It will teach you more than you ever thought possible in one book. You will look at the world differently. It will expand your mind.- LiloAuthor of The Light Who ShinesAnd just to be technically correct, this is not a review. It is a recommendation.

Meghan Fidler

While I generally support any work which attempts to teach the American public history, especially if said history is meant to highlight potential environmental lessons for contemporary times, Diamond's prose was odd to me. "Collapse" includes innumerable incredibly long and unconnected tangents alongside odd introductions to subjects (i.e. "someone in the past ate something shocking, like other people people or crystallized rat piss"), though some of this can be excused as an attempt to keep the readers attention. However, the length of the manuscript (where was the editor?) and the unfocused fact-dumping led me to wonder if this best seller was actually read by the majority of people who bought it.

Erik Graff

Diamond's prior Guns, Germs & Steel addresses the reasons why some peoples in some areas of the world produced civilizations and others didn't. The factors emphasized are material and the subtext is that these factors, not moral or racial inferiority, were decisive. Disaster tells the other side of the story, namely why some cultures and civilizations fail while others succeed. This is done through case studies such as a comparison of Viking Greenland (failure) to the Inuits (success) and Viking Iceland (near failure, current recovery) and Creole Haiti (failure) to the Spanish Dominican Republic (success). There are many other examples, including contemporary Montana, but these are the clearest comparisons. A common thread of the exemplary failure is that of populations outstripping resources. Another is that of cascading effects once saturation occurs. While the outlook is bleak, Diamond is at pains to point to success stories and to discuss the means by which good decisions have been and might be made as regards environmentally sustainable practices.


From now on, every fledgling civilization should be issued with a little pamphlet outlining the dangers of deforestation. On the cover, there'd be a picture of a toppled Easter Island statue, with the caption, "Learn from our mistakes: if you chop down all your trees, your society will expire in an orgy of cannibalism. Also, you might want to go easy on the monoliths."Collapse is a sobering book, but I'm just jaded enough that after about the tenth analysis of pollen readings from core samples, I was like, "Come on, Jared. Get to the part where they eat each other." And that was before he launched into a detailed discussion of Japanese forestry policy in the Tokugawa era. Silviculture was a lot more interesting to me when I thought it had something to do with art therapy for seniors.So, yeah, we're all gonna die, and some of us will probably end up getting eaten. But in the meantime, I've still got a few seasons of Barney Miller to download, so no rush.

Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership

One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.Collapse examines various societies throughout history that have collapsed (Easter Island, Pitcairn, the Maya, Anasazi, the Vikings/Norse in Greenland) and compares these to societies that faced similar conditions and yet succeeded (Japan, New Guinea Highlands, the Vikings/Norse in Iceland). Diamond identifies five factors that define collapse or success.Looking specifically at environmental impacts, Diamond identifies various forms of historical 'ecocide', including deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinisation and loss of soil fertility), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, the effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth and increased per capita impact of people. There is evidence of all these dangers in modern society.


Fa caldo. L'ho cominciato ed é interessantissimo ma fa caldo. L'abbiocco da afa é garantito. Ci sono libri invernali e libri estivi.Questo ha bisogno di un clima temperato.

Kenghis Khan

The Pulitzer-prize winning "Guns, Germs and Steel" by this dude forever changed the way I look at history. And believe me, I am a history buff of sorts so this means a lot. Unfortunately, "Collapse" fails to measure up to that classic.The real problem with Collapse isn't the research that goes into the thesis, or even the soundness of the thesis itself (though there are some qualms I have about how politically unstable Mongolia is or basing his analysis of cod fisheries on a single popular accunt). The central contention, that population explosion, interdependency, unsustainable harvest, adverse cultural values, and about 8 other factors contributed to a society's collapse, is innocuous enough, though admittedly somewhat vague. Rather, the problem is that Diamond is so intent upon clearly and explicitly detailing every freaking argument to paint a convincing picture of the ancient/medieval societies or the current polluting industries that he often loses sight of his larger arguments. For instance, his discussion of Viking Greenland v. Iceland is insightful but whether it warrants nearly 100 pages in a 500 page book I doubt. The same could be said of his discussion of modern Australia; China, in contrast, gets really short shrift. He goes at pain to explicate the archaeological evidence by which we understand the Anasazi collapse, but here too he gets a little repetitive and locquacious. For instance, the logic behind dendrochronolgy and salinization were explained more than once to elucidate yet another nuance. Indeed, here Diamond the scientist persistently gets in the way of Diamond the popular writer. Were it not for his stellar writing skills this would have been even more of a chore to read.Apart from the lack of effective editing, Collapse suffers from Diamond's penchant to almost bend over backward to point out that he is not engaged in a crude form of "Environmental determinism" whereby the significance of cultural and political events are misleadingly downplayed. He certainly didn't do this in Guns Germs and Steel but many people, including the NY Times, accuse him of it. Nevertheless Diamond was sufficiently sensitive to this interpretation (as well as eager to show that we can prevent environmental catastrophe) that he repeats this ad nauseum and, IMHO, belabors this point to being beyond repetitive. The cumulative effect of all these shortcomings is that the book ends up presenting really rather very little that is new, argues persistently against straw man hypotheses, and is informative but almost in a trivial sense. At 520 odd dense pages this is a lot to ask of a reader, and it is a pity that this simply does not measure up to Diamond's earlier works.


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed succeeds in educating the reader about components of previous societies that led to their collapses and how those same components present themselves in today's global society. Lest anyone thinks this creates a negative, somber doomsday of a book, it doesn't. Diamond writes positively and offers much hope. I appreciated his approach to controversial subjects such as abortion used as a method to keep population down. He doesn't resort to the typical guilting or fear tactics that so many environmentalists use to force their opinion on their readers. Diamond uses a straight-forward approach that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. The book avoids the usual dose of environmental politics which I highly appreciated.My one beef with this book revolves around the writing. Diamond writes this book like he would deliver a lecture. Although, I didn't find it boring because of the amount of high-quality research, new information and the subject matter, the frequent re-capping became annoying after a few chapters. I resorted to skip-reading through the chapter-end summaries about half the way through this lengthy book. I found the ending chapters mostly redundant also, because I had already understood the similarities between our cultures and the ancient or troubled ones. However, in spite of the redundant-tendencies, I would recommend this book because of the wealth of information it contains. I think it has an eye-opening message for us regarding our dependence on each other's natural resources (as nations) and potential consequences of that interdependence.writing = 3 starscontent = 4.5 starsrelevance = 5.0 starsI finished this big book in less than a month! = 5 stars

Ma'lis Wendt

Dense book, but fascinating information on how and why civilizations develop and then collapse with historical and present day examples.


Guns, Germs and Steel occasionally felt like monday morning quarterbacking, but Collapse is superb. In GG&S, Diamond tried to explain how technologies that evolved in some places did not in others, how some communities thrived due to excess food and more advanced agriculture, while others, perpetually on the verge of starvation, had to devote all of their time to dealing with that and thus didn't have time for building the Parthenon. The argument was not airtight - his notion of what constitutes a reasonable amount of time to spend on gathering food could use a little sharpening, and he didn't approach work as part and parcel of culture, which it most certainly is. GG&S also overlooked a lot of crops available to people he strenuously argued had nothing to eat - for example, Acai in the Amazon Basin (a superfood which constitutes 45% of the diet of some locals) and others elsewhere.In Collapse, Diamond examines how several ancient societies (Easter Island, Mangareva/Pitcairn Lapita, Maya, the Norse colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland) fell apart due to resource management issues, the environmental challenges faced by a few modern countries (Australia, Japan, China), and the best ways to avoid a tragedy of the commons-type situation that results in a drastically reduced standard of living for everyone. The author is breathtakingly impartial, sometimes to a fault; he laconically remarks, for example, that "George W. Bush remains unconvinced of the reality of global warming."Overall, Diamond seems most worried about erosion, which he sees as a bigger problem than global warming because of the difficulty of replacing arable land, and the multitude of ways it can be destroyed. You can buy all the long-line-caught Chilean sea bass you want, and eat organic lettuce all day, and still have an awful impact on the environment because the soil in which the lettuce grows is a limited resource, as are the fisheries that produce the fish you buy, which also suffer from land degradation.Diamond thinks that a lot of the resources we rely on have been made artificially cheap through subsidies and foolish government management of limited resources. He's right, but there is a conflict between egalitarianism and environmentalism lurking between the pages of this book: I don't think you can charge the right amount for energy or food or other essentials without further immiserating the poor. That's the unmet challenge of the environmental movement, the one this and most books on the subject dodge. Despite that, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Collapse for its details on everyday life in Norse Greenland and Easter Island alone, not just for the nuanced analysis.


I felt compelled to read this, in particular given it's premise (choice is a big deal for the survival of cultures and societies), and I struggled to keep with it. But, ultimately, it was quite rewarding and a worthy read. Helps build the broader argument about how fucked up we are and, at the same time, how blessed we are with such potential.


Extraordinary in scope. Makes the news far more interesting even than it already was. However, I withhold star 5 because someone should have run the manuscript by me. Many awkward sentences. Too many sentences that aren't, quite. Or that aren't by a long shot. Penguin? Editors? Anyone? Such a noble and otherwise impressive undertaking deserves better care before reaching the public. But yes. A grand and very fine book indeed.

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