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The Upside Of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity And The Renewal Of Civilisation
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The Upside Of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity And The Renewal Of Civilisation

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  363 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Today's converging energy, environmental, economic & political stresses could case a breakdown of national & global order. In this book, Thomas Homer-Dixon shows how to choose a better route into the future. Drawing on an array of disciplines, Homer-Dixon's acute insights are imaginative & controversial.
Published June 1st 2007 by Souvenir Press (first published 2006)
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On how forest fires are the right way to see this crisis.

Certain forests only reproduce if there is a fire...but only as long as the fire isn't too big.

The main point is that many problematic situations are coinciding right now which Homer-Dixon calls tectonic stresses. He thinks they will function like multipliers (or like an earthquake effect) and we are likely looking at synchronous failure. According to him it is beyond management but we need to realize that crashes can cause higher levels
Jun 11, 2007 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately, my excitement for this book overwhelmed it's execution. The title is promising--Upside of Down--but through and through it's mostly "Down, Down, Down" and a tiny bit of the upside. Basically, we're doomed. Homer-Dixon's proof is solid and convincing of the trouble we're in (though, I imagine, if you, like myself, were intrigued enough to pick up this book, you already think about this pervasive trouble anyway), but the solutions he puts forth (the Upside) are little more than luke ...more
May 11, 2009 KMO rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a grand book. The explanation for why there's a "down" fills more pages than the details of the "upside," but at this point, I think that's still a necessary evil.

I have interviewed the author twice for the C-Realm Podcast, once before reading the book and once after. You can find those interviews here:

and here:
Alexander Mostert
Jun 10, 2008 Alexander Mostert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really stimulating read, and very absorbing. It gets four stars only because I felt that the concluding note of optimism wasn't entirely justified by the profound problems he identifies. Overall though, it's a must read for anyone interested in the future of civilisation...

Jun 27, 2007 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Guess what, guys? We're all doomed! Just like ancient Rome! Have a good day now!
Jan 30, 2017 Mina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is relevant to everything that is happening in the world right now. Written in 2006, the author covers issues from climate change, to the rise of ultra-conservative/populist political parties/government, to demographic pressures, inequality, interdependence, and a finite supply of oil. One point stuck with me the most, his comparison of the decline of Roman Empire to today. Definitely recommend reading it.
Nov 20, 2016 Tahrana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This will make you rethink how you view growth and the state of the world. It was written in 2006, but he predicts the crash of 2007/08 and the populist rise. Intriguing with points to consider for government, entrepreneurs, and communities.
Aug 17, 2010 Parksy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Cool look at the decline of the roman empire and the similarities it has with the decline of the American Empire.

From Publishers Weekly
With easy-to-understand terminology and a mountain of research, Toronto author Homer-Dixon (The Ingenuity Gap) faces down imminent, unavoidable and catastrophic threats to modern civilization, keeping a wary eye on mankind's chances to adapt. Methodically illustrating how the modern world is doomed to suffer a large-scale breakdown, Homer-Dixon enumerates t
Sep 27, 2016 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like this was an important work, and the data is well represented in incredible detail. The problem I had with it - and the reason it took so long to read - is that the author focused so much on the information that he forgot about readability. That's a real shame, because this book goes into detail about the stressors put on our world, civilization in general, and particularly (American) societies that could cause future crises, and the crises we've faced recently and distantly. It discu ...more
Aug 11, 2014 Ryan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
The author offers a useful framework to help us understand the various stresses that inflict our modern global society, likening them to the buildup of tectonic forces that eventually result in an earthquake. While I agree with other readers that there seems to be little upside to his prognosis of our predicament, I think any effort that further explains these complex issues is helpful in that it makes the argument more convincing and preparation for the inevitable breakdown that he envisages mo ...more
Sep 14, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The good:

Well-written and compelling
100 pages of endnotes (I love footnotes, and endnotes are almost as good)
Makes a consistent argument about energy returns on investment being fundamental to society’s functioning, historically and currently

The bad:

I was interested in the UPSIDE of down. I just skimmed most of the book, with its discussion of peak oil and environmental stress and climate change, because I don’t need convincing on those points. I wanted to know what to DO about them. All I got w
Apr 24, 2013 M.J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. Homer-Dixon is writing about the secular end of the world. It is his belief that civilization's own success is the source for a series of unfortunately congruent pressures that threaten to release in a pillar of fire and destruction within the next generations. That it is called the “Upside of Down” seems like marketing, while there are hints of hope that what he perceives to be the root causes can be addressed, it never really comes off as totall ...more
Nov 11, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting analysis on the challenges all societies face. Namely their rise and fall. The analysis boils down to the energy available to a society. When the Roman empire's supply of wheat and other foodstuffs (the energy currency of the times) declined following environmental degradation and migration, they could not maintain their territory. Granted it was not like a battery dying. Those clever Romans used all kinds of taxes and tricks to keep things going. Eventually to no avail. Today ...more
Feb 29, 2008 Pang rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I particularly enjoyed this point capitalism:

"[Economic] growth makes the new industries and generates the new jobs needed to absorb technologically displaced workers. The American economy, for example, must expand 3 to 5% annually--doubling in size every fifteen to twenty-five years--just to keep unemployment from rising. And to get this growth, our leaders and corporations--operating on the implicit assumption that people can be inculcated with insatiable desires and ever-rising expectations--
"This Changes Everything" - but by Thomas Homer-Dixon, and nearly 10 years old. A beautiful systems approach to the issues our world and society are facing today, and why it is likely leading to collapse. In summary, there are 5 "tectonic stresses" accumulating that will cause great change for our societies:

* population stress
* energy stress
* environmental stress
* climate stress, and
* economic stress (including global trade issues and the ever-widening income gaps)

All explained in thorough detai
Jul 25, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Homer-Dixon applies his impressive knowledge of the history of civilizations, complexity theory, energy systems, economics and ecology to the considerable problems of our modern world and comes up with a suprisingly readable book. An unblinking look at the precipice towards which our modern world is headed and, remarkably, the opportunities we have ahead of us for transformation. If only enough of us harness the wisdom that is available and care deeply enough to apply it... Current affairs sudde ...more
Sep 09, 2014 Grond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thought provoking examination of what is to come from Thomas Homer-Dixon may not be a fun read but clearly is a 'should be read'. We are collectively racing toward a potentially grim future and people who can't be bothered to consider the shape of that future certainly earn the uncertainty and upheaval it will bring. Homer-Dixon offers eminently readable musings on what has happened before and how it might help us illuminate the way forward. The progonsis may be unpalatable but we need to have ...more
Dec 15, 2014 Anton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is terrifically researched. Dixon synthesizes ideas from various sciences (including energy return on investment and asymmetric warfare) to clearly and convincingly lay out a thesis detailing the collapse of our civilization. I found myself reading the book by my computer so that I could get head down the rabbit holes of curiosity that it inspired.

Many of Dixon's graver forecasts have proven true since the book was published in 2006, but it doesn't look like his recommended actions to
Nov 12, 2010 Victoria-Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book because it really made me think. It was at times a hard read so what I ended up doing was keeping track of all the words I didn't know and writing them down so that I could look them up later. By the time I finished the book I had about five pages of words and three pages of referenced pionts in time and theorys mentioned throughout the book! I would recommend this book for someone who want's a challenge.
Aug 16, 2009 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in the globalization phenomenon, including environmental, economic and phsychological aspects, this books offers some great food for thought. I was particularly interested in the author's insights into the causes of society's widespread denial - the "why don't we get real" chapters of the book. Given the sobering topic and situation analysis, I was surprised and relieved that the book ultimately ends with a message of hope.
May 08, 2016 Mesha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For my area of research focus the last chapters were the most relevant, especially discussion of system resiliency.
"Resilience is an emergent property of a system - it's not a result of any one of the system's parts but of the synergy between its parts. So as a rough and ready rule, boosting the ability of each part to take care of itself in a crisis boosts overall resilience."
Dec 29, 2011 Steffy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book was extremely repetitive and I felt as though little was actualy said. Granted, it was full of interesting facts and the author had a good point to make about our society lacking resilience and about our needing to make some major social changes in order to deal with the global problems with which we are faced. However, this should have been an essay, not a 300 page book.
Oct 15, 2007 sandy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
48/308 I just can't do these social science non-fictions that try to incorporate quantitative tools that just seem so far stretched and inappropriate. I keep on thinking, error bars must be huge, but of course they don't even consider them. After awhile, I just can't stand reading them anymore. But then again, I read only 15%, so it might get better...
Mar 25, 2009 Carla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book lays out that the greatest issues effecting our generation right now are. It is factual, practical, and inspirational. The greatest issues that face the world are our generation's to fix. This provides great clarity into what needs to be done and how creative problem solving will be how this is accomplished.
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We made a short film inspired by this book - check it out! The Upside of Down Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon
U of T professor hits another home run. Just as absorbing, thought provoking, scary and necessary reading as 'The Ingenuity Gap'. H-D is convinced the world is heading for a major breakdown as a result of the combination of the end of oil and global warming. The chapter on the philosophy of perpetual growth ought to be understood by every politician.
Chad Colgur
Oct 17, 2012 Chad Colgur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The availability of cheap energy has fundamentally transformed our global society. The political complexity introduced by that transformation is something the Romans never had to face. How is our situation different? How is it the same? This book goes a long way towards answering those important questions.
Jun 08, 2011 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this book. As the title suggests, when things are looking bleak there is a positive, just we need to find it. The chapter called Catagenisis on how forest fires help the environment, and yet most of California sits on a powder keg of dead material (and lately being proven with so many fires) was the most memorable impression.
Jun 27, 2009 Bobby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've heard a couple of interviews with Thomas Homer-Dixon and have been quite impressed. He elucidates complicated ideas very clearly and succinctly. Am 50 pages into this and it's really engaging so far.
Abdullah Alzahim
Sep 11, 2013 Abdullah Alzahim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The idea is very simple. All civilizations have start and end. It mimicks "the clash of civilizations" and he looks down at other nations and threatens his people from letting them up.

This book is best suited for warming up yourself with in the winter.
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