Collapse, by Jared Diamond, is a very thought provoking book. One cannot simply describe this book as good or bad, because it discusses a problem so often over looked. Its not something that makes one feel warm and fuzzy by reading, rather it really makes one think about the short and long term implications of policy and practice within societies. When I first picked up Collapse I thought the subtitle was quite interesting “How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” I’d never really thought about the fact that success within a society is a choice just like it is in our lives. The “hard work equals success” ethic is instilled in every child who attends public school; yet it seems very few people see the success of a country as dependent on the criteria Diamond describes.
Throughout the book, Diamond examines the factors that contribute to a societies collapse; Environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and society’s responses to its environmental problems. These five factors do not always necessarily directly cause societal collapse, but, Diamond believes the latter always has a significant consequence. Damage of the environment can be simplified into eight categories: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems, water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per capita impact of people. Diamond takes these often damaged categories and assesses many situations of past and present where societies responded properly as well as improperly to lay his framework on the effect of responses to environmental problems (combined with effects of the other five factors contributing to collapse) to analyze effective methods to respond to the common pattern. The common pattern of population growth leading to increased farming, expansion onto marginal land, unsustainable practices in order for greater food production, resulting in land loss, food shortages, wars due to resource competition, government overthrows, and economic collapse.
Diamond applies the situations of famous collapses to society today and analyzes the current situations throughout the world. It is bittersweet how much sense it makes. Throughout reading, I could not help but think about what trouble we are in, yet the fact that the problems are identifiable leaves hope; in fact it provides clear understanding of what needs to be changed in order to survive like the most successful situations to be found. The book is not about inevitable doom, or a helpless collapse in the near future, rather it is a valuable reflection on our past and current situations in order to better the future. Granted, at first the future appears bleak; however, Diamond’s ability to include success stories and reasons for hope prevents a darkened cloud over society, and instead portrays one of the most realistic pictures of the situation I have read or heard.
Collapse’s holistic approach in looking at the situation from all aspects and angles gives it a strength one cannot find in a text book or a research journal discussing the seemingly inevitable impacts of global warming, oil mining, and other such crisis’s in our time. Collapse puts it all together in an understandable and seamless fashion. Collapse also, as the back of the book says, “Exposes the deepest mysteries of the past even as it offers hope for the future.” These facts caused me to greatly enjoy the book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in a realistic, holistic, truthful, yet hopeful analysis of the situations that exist in society. The book will not provide a warm fuzzy feeling, rather, it will expose problems of past societies that we have not yet overcome or solved. So, if one is interested in having a cookie-cutter view of the worlds problems (and therefore lack of problems) this book is not for you, because it will only destroy that view. That being stated, I highly recommend the book to anyone looking to learn and try to make a difference in their lives no matter how unable they feel.
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