How societies choose to fail or succeed.
For anyone haunted by images of Mayan ruins overtaken by Mesoamerican jungles, or of pueblo fortresses perched in southwestern caverns, Collapse is the book to read. You’ll also need a high tolerance for summaries of archaeological research. Jared Diamond traces the decline and collapses of human societies around the world and throughout history due to mismanagement of their environment and resources.
After cataloguing the failure of Viking settlements in Medieval Greenland, the Anasazi in the American southwest, and the Easter Islanders, Diamond turns his attention to modern instances of both good and bad management of environmental resources. He explores the possibilities of ecological collapse in Montana, China, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Papua New Guinea.
In each of these cases, his message is clear: we get to choose our fate. Diamond explores the main human factors that determined which societies failed or succeeded, listing factors like alliances, trade partners, or the presence of hostile enemies. The comparison between the collapses of ancient civilizations and the choices being made in society today is clear, if a bit preachy. He is fair in presenting not just one path to either success or failure, though the road may be somewhat wider to failure.
Diamond’s dogged insistence on detail and broad scope make this a thought-provoking and convicting read for anyone concerned with the shape our world is taking in terms of environmental responsibility.