Erika RS's Reviews > Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Collapse by Jared Diamond
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May 30, 12

Read in September, 2011

What factors lead a society to collapse? Diamond explores this question in Collapse. A collapsed society, in this context, is one where the human population disappears or decreases dramatically within a region. Thus, for the purposes of this book, a society conquered in war but with the population largely intact is not a collapse and a society where everyone chooses to leave a region is.

So what causes societies to collapse? There are many factors, and Diamond, in his signature stories, weaves those factors into an entertaining fabric that mixes principles with illustrating examples. The commonality in these stories are societies that grow their resource use to the point where they reach the sustainable capacity of their environment. The collapse occurs when something happens, e.g., the society continues to increase usage beyond the limits of sustainability or something (like a long drought) happens to decrease the environmental capacity. The details are more interesting than the conclus

Failures teach us many lessons, and so do successes. After outlining the factors that contribute to the failures of many societies, Diamond talks about the factors which help societies survive the factors which lead to collapse. Between these two viewpoints, we learn that we are not that different from earlier societies. We face some new challenges, but it's largely the same: interconnected societies in delicate environments depleting their forests and soil and dealing with climate changes. Not all difficulties of the past led to collapse, so we should feel hopeful that if we face our choices strength, we can once again survive these challenges.
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