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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is a book with a brilliant idea, adequately presented. Collapse is also presented adequately, for an undergrad ecology course textbook. The ideas aren’t lacking, but are dull, undefined, hard to follow, and boil down to this: it is hard for a society to survive in a harsh, isolated environment, and some places tend to become harsh and isolated once humans start overexploiting resources, so better be careful. He presents several past societies that thus failed (Easter Island, Anasazi, the Greenland Norse, etc.), several that survived, and gives some not entirely plausible accounts of current societies which may be on the brink of collapse (Montana, China, Rwanda).

Diamond likes to enumerate: there is a Five-point Framework for Societies’ Collapse, but also Ten (?) Reasons Why The Vikings Failed, Seven Ways the Hard Mining Industry is Ruining the Environment, and Fifteen Things to Do in Iceland. I made-up those last three numbers, because I couldn’t remember the actual ones — he likes to enumerate, but doesn’t like lists, so it doesn’t make for a very good textbook either.

Written by Jared Diamond, 2011

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