For my book review I chose to read “Collapse: How Societies choose to Fail or Succeed” by the award winning author, Jared Diamond. This book was published by Viking Press and the ISBN is 0-14-303655-6. You can access the author’s website at The Copyright for the book is Jared Diamond, 2005, 2011 All Rights Reserved.

This book is about society and the path that many societies even today take to collapse. It reviews several societies some with better endings than others ranging from modern day Montana to Easter Islands and the horrific story that took place there. It then moves to other examples like how Rwanda fell into a genocidal state, Haiti failing to keep up with its more successful neighbors and modern China and Australia. It also showcases the five pillars to a societal collapse. The pillars are environmental damage, shifting climate, hostile neighbors, loss of partner societies, and cultural hindrances.eheads1

The main points of the book are the reasons why societies collapse. Many collapses start at damage to the environment, from over logging and dangerous mining habits in Montana, to exhausting resources to build statues on Easter Island. The second big point is a reaction to the first, conflict over the environment. When resources are being increasingly depleted, everyone will become hostile to gain and/or defend their resources. The powerful chiefs must deal with revolting citizens as the resources become scarce. The last main point I took away is the value of having help. When societies cannot provide all the resources they need which was an issue for Norse Greenland, they must have a partner to trade with. When the trade starts to wither away, issues rapidly multiply and societies fall.

I feel like this book is valuable in teaching a lesson on respecting our environment. People should read this book or my short review of the book, to learn that if we do not tread carefully within our environment, it will stomp us out. Easter Island is a perfect example of this and it can be compared to deforestation today. Easter Island used to be full of tree species, but after the society cut down all of the trees for their use, they died off and when Europeans discovered the island, there were no trees left, but there were plenty of big statues to be praised by no one. This is a priceless lesson that everyone should be taught and this book is an interesting way to learn it. If we continue to destroy our rain forests, one day there will not be a rain forest, and all the people who depend on the many resources it provides, will suffer.

The author did have somethings to add to the class, mostly on the developmental chapters from the first couple of weeks of the class. It discusses how the environment can provide bountiful resources and jobs to the people in the area. Like mining, logging, and ranching in Montana. It also had an indirect thing to add to inter-generational issues. The book spoke multiple times on the lack of written history leaving people blind about their own past. This causes older generations to destroy their resources and the newer generations have the issues of dealing with the outcomes of an unsustainable home. Lastly it touched on income inequality. From rich people buying up farmlands in Montana, to chiefs having the largest share of delicacies and resources in ancient societies.

One major fact that I did not realize before reading this book was the drastic effects of humans on their environments dating back thousands of years. I understood that a lot of things done today harm the environment, like leaching methods in mining and cutting massive sections of forests down. But in the book several examples of damaging the environment were made. Such as poor farming techniques destroying the fertility of the soil, and over hunting causing mini mass extinctions of main food sources. Or how even a rat stowed away on a boat could kill off entire species of indigenous animals. This fact can really be summed up like this, the environment is extremely fragile and humans have never at any point, either understood or cared what they did to it. And that is why so many past societies and why all societies today are destined to collapse if measures are not taken.

I wish the author would have spoken some societies in between the ones he had covered. He covered many pacific islands, modern Montana, Rwanda, China, and Australia, but I feel that talking about how Napoleonic France collapsed or how the Ottoman Empire fell would have added more examples with many details and a complex written history to his book and could have made his points stronger. He could have delved into the Nazi Empire, how Adolf Hitler depleted his resources, lost allies, and had many enemies, and then has his empire collapse in front of him.

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This book did change my thinking, it has made me want to do more research and maybe I will use some of the countries I listed in the previous paragraph as my starting points. A big point I have taken away from the book is that managing your environment and your resources responsibly is the only way to prosper over a long period of time. An idea I would like to pass to other students is to think about your life as its own society. Make sure you a careful with your environment, make sure you have a steady plan in life, maximize your friends and minimize your enemies, and always keep your mind open so your own past ignorance don’t lead you to a collapse.



“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond

Wikipedia’s Article on the Book

The Ted Talk by Jared Diamond about his Book