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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  41,566 ratings  ·  2,318 reviews
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 skyscraper
Paperback, 608 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Penguin Books Ltd. (London) (first published 2004)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
32nd out of 3,493 books — 5,417 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
29th out of 928 books — 2,296 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jared Diamond looks at several societies that have collapsed as a result of misusing their natural resources, plus a couple (Tokugawa period Japan is the star example) that miraculously managed to pull back from the brink. At the end, he also talks about some present-day cases where we still don't know what will happen.

The one my thoughts keep returning to is medieval Greenland, which Diamond discusses in a long and detailed chapter. Settled in the 11th century by Vikings originally from Norway
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 accun
I considered giving this book 4 instead of 5 stars simply because it can be over-dense in its detail and the style can be rather dry - but then I figured that says more about my stamina and laziness than about the quality of the book, so the book gets 5 and I get a 4 for effort. We're all winners.

So despite the headline-grabbing title, the author Jared Diamond - a cross between an Amish garden gnome and avuncular Glastonbury festival supremo if you go by his picture - tries its darndest to avoid
Will Byrnes
This is a major work. Diamond looks in detail at the factors at play in the demise of civilizations in human history, using a wide range of examples. He offers a framework in which to structure the analysis and looks in great detail at possible (and in many cases certain) reasons why various societies collapsed. He is not a one-note analyst. All problems do not fit the same mold. There is considerable nuance and common sense brought to bear on this examination. Foolishness plays a part, greed, c ...more
The halfway point review:

One question I've been wrestling with as I read, as I watch these societies move slightly past sustainability, as I read about societal collapse and the squandering of resources by the wealthy and then the inevitable cannibalism that always seems to show up in the last act, I keep asking myself how the environment became a "political issue." There's no question that environmental resources aren't infinite, yet it seems like the majority of people…or at least the loudest
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 constit ...more
In Collapse, Jared Diamond draws our attention to the following problems, which have "plagued" humanity throughout history.

1. Deforestation and loss of habitat
2. Overhunting
3. Overfishing
4. Soil degradation
5. Water management problems
6. Population growth
7. Increased per capita impact of people
8. Impact of non-native species

And now we face four more:

9. Human-caused climate change
10. The build up toxic waste
11. We're approaching the limits of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity
12. Energy shortages
So I was in Belize for the holiday and became fascinated with all the Mayan ruins I visited. I had been to Copan in Honduras years ago, but was reminded of the great glory of this civilization, and the controversial collapse that happened to disperse people from these great structures around 900 AD.

I love Guns Germs and Steel more than anything, it changed how I look at history and people and society, so I dug into this one, particularly the Mayan part, with great excitement. And it doesn't disa
Fascinating work by the same author who won a Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

This exhaustive study in Malthusian economics as applied to several societies in history that have failed, such as the Easter Islanders and Greenland Norse, details the thematic traits common to each example.

Most notably is how deforestation and imprudent population control applies to modern societies in trouble as well. I find myself thinking about this work frequently, his id
Charlie George
[2011 Update: I am re-reading this after not quite 2 years. I have come to regard this book as the best non-fiction I've had the pleasure of reading, and recommend it emphatically if you have an interest in any of the subjects in which I have it categorized on my shelves.]

A masterwork, better even than Mr. Diamond's Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel. Collapse bridges the gap between anthropology and environmentalism, and critically connects each with our own welfare, both collectively and a
Although I only gave this book three stars, I can recommend it a little bit over that. I found it interesting, but not quite as compelling as I might have if I wasn’t already familiar with some parts of the story. I took graduate classes in International Relations, specializing in China as well as international political economy, so I didn’t find any surprises in the abstract background to Collapse.

Some very intriguing parts were the stories of collapse of vanished societies, as many have noted
Helga Mohammed el-Salami
The esteemed Jared Diamond, author of one of the most insightful and profound books of the previous decade: Guns Germs and Steel, tried to break the wave of his success on Collapse, a book about the failure of societies due to a laundry-list of (mostly environmental) issues. It’s too soon to render a verdict on the bearded Professor (unlike Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson) since he wisely chose topics which cannot be gauged within a human lifetime but the book itself was a real steaming pile of e ...more
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 typica ...more
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,
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.

- Lilo
Author of The Light Who Shines

And just to be technically correct, this is not a review. It is a recommendation.
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I listened to the abridged audio version of this book. Some of the discs were damaged, and I have no idea what I missed, so I won't rate the book. I wanted to listen to the full-length audio version, but I can't stand that reader's style. You'd have to put a firecracker up his nose to get him to put any inflection in his voice. (Don't forget to light the firecracker. An unlit one would just make him sound even more nasally challenged.)

A lot of what was in this book I already knew from my degree
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.
Nandakishore Varma
May 06, 2015 Nandakishore Varma marked it as to-read
Shelves: deferred

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside r
This is a difficult book to give one rating to. Some parts of it deserve four or five stars, some parts deserve one or two. Generally, Collapse lacks the consistency of Diamond's most well known book, Guns, Germs and Steel. Where Guns, Germs and Steel is nearly intuitive in the simpleness but universal applicability of its principles, Collapse is episodic and fractured. Diamond's basic thesis is that societies in ecologically fragile environments "choose" to succeed or fail based on how willing ...more
Aug 20, 2007 Richard rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
The thesis here is that the success or failure of any culture depends upon five factors:

Climate change,
Environmental preservation or degradation,
The presence of friendly external trade partners,
The presence of external enemies, and finally,
That society's ability and willingness to respond to the previous four factors.

To develop his theory, Diamond discusses about a dozen different societies, past and present, which had experienced various combinations of troubles with the first four factors, and
Oct 04, 2008 Irwan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: finished
A great, readable book about past and present societies, their decisions regarding societal and environmental challenges that led to their collapse or survival.

On the side, I found the book very informative about the history of the societies. I particularly enjoy those about the Greenland's Norse(Viking). This book inspire me to expand my reading to those about archaeology and history.

One important lesson: ability and willingness to change core values (religious or secular) proved to be essent
Oct 23, 2007 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fatalists
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 Col
Erik Graff
Feb 07, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: John Elkin
Shelves: sciences
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 V
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 wo
This would have been a better book at about half the length. Diamond is a devotee of that style that is heavily promoted for oral presentations – say what you are going to say, say it using bullets for emphasis and clarity, and say what you just said by way of summary. The dreaded PowerPoint syndrome, in other words. So, when ploughing through the admittedly interesting and illuminating chapters, I found I was waiting each time for the Five Points That Indicate Society’s Success or Failure, and ...more
(this book is bigger than I thought...)

I'm finally done! I know, nine weeks later...

For a specific rating, I would say the content is 4.5, readability is 3. This book is definitely worth reading, even if you don't plan on putting in the effort to thoroughly read each section. The section on ancient cultures if interesting, but his level of detail is not necessary to understanding the main points of his book. For example, I found myself slightly skimming the paragraphs describing precisely how sc
Lee Drake
READ THIS! If this book doesn't shake your intellectual and moral fibers, then something is wrong. It details the history of civilization collapse, and analyzes the environment and how its mismanagement translates to social conflict and collapse. This book transformed me from wannabe archaeologist to wannabe politician - because for the first time I saw that the archaeological record has definitive implictions for how we should live our lives and structure our social institutions.

Honestly, if t
Anja Boskovic
Changed my life.
I found this book well worth sticking through the very detailed 525 pages , and not just because of Diamond's intention to illuminate similarities between the causes of the collapse of past societies and threats to the world today.

Three reasons I enjoyed the book:

First, I have always been curious about the fate of mysterious ancient societies, like the Anasazi and Maya, which was my initial reason for reading the book. The book provided engrossing details about many societies, both ancient and
dead letter office
Extremely repetitive, inadequately researched, highly speculative, and overly assertive. Jared Diamond clearly knows a lot about some things, but he seems to think he knows a lot about everything. And he gets a lot wrong, at least on the things I know something about (Easter Island, for example, where his Collapse hypothesis is generally regarded by people who actually study the island's history and prehistory as wildly off-base and unsupported by evidence).

This book was clearly written by some
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Jared Diamond is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. He is Professor of Geography at UCLA and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He has dedicated this book to his sons and future generations.
More about Jared Diamond...
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters) Natural Experiments of History

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“[T]he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.” 25 likes
“The metaphor is so obvious. Easter Island isolated in the Pacific Ocean — once the island got into trouble, there was no way they could get free. There was no other people from whom they could get help. In the same way that we on Planet Earth, if we ruin our own [world], we won't be able to get help.” 21 likes
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