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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  39,431 ratings  ·  2,188 reviews
In Jared Diamond’s follow-up to the Pulitzer-Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel, the author explores how climate change, the population explosion and political discord create the conditions for the collapse of civilization

Environmental damage, climate change, globalization, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of societies a
Paperback, Revised, 608 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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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
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
Mar 19, 2012 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Judy by: Nathanael
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
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
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.
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Erik Graff
Feb 07, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Jun 06, 2012 Cheryl marked it as not-for-me  ·  review of another edition
I read lots of reviews. Seems like people love it if they agree with his 'premise' (though most don't admit he has one, and for all I know maybe he doesn't), or hate it if they don't. It's also 'interesting' 'readable' 'dry' and 'dense' depending on the reader. I might recommend it to Ralph because it apparently does a lot of that thing he's especially interested in, the 'how do we know what we claim to know' - but I might not because it's so very long.
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
I read this book over six weeks from February through March 2006. It took a lot of effort but was excellent. It is filled with excellent observations on different societies and why they failed or excelled. Much of his observations were new to me but were well documented and reasonable. In addition, to information on various societies was an introduction to various field methods of study that were amazing. So, he shows what is the current research into archeology (and all its arcane specialties) ...more
The endorsement on the back of this book by Business Weekly is probably the best, most concise way to say anything about this book. It really is like a college course by an awesome professor in the form of a book. While I did encounter some things I knew, for the most part it was a cornucopia of new information. I took my time reading this so that I would not only have time to think about what I was reading , but assimilate that information as well. Whether I've been successful with the venture ...more
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
Didn't get to the end, but it's finished in the sense that I got as far as I'm gonna go.

Four or five stars for the first two-thirds. I loved learning about the resourceful, entertaining, and possibly suspect ways some archaeologists use to try to figure out how people lived a long long time ago, even when those people ended up virtually destroying themselves and leaving behind little else behind besides garbage -- people who, with no compasses, no longitude, and no ships, traveled vast distance
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • The Collapse of Complex Societies
  • Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
  • The Future of Life
  • The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century
  • Connections
  • The Last Days of the Incas
  • The Revenge of Gaia
  • The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth
  • A Short History of Progress
  • The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
  • Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning
  • Natural Capitalism
  • Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
  • A Green History of the World: The Environment & the Collapse of Great Civilizations
  • Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
  • The Ascent of Man
  • Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
  • Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
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.” 18 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.” 16 likes
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