Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition

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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. Diamond is also the author of Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis


Environmental damage, climate change, globalization, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of societies around the world, but some found solutions and persisted. As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe, and weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Collapse moves from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?

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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Jan 4, 2011
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Pages
608
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ISBN
9781101502006
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Civilization
Social Science / Anthropology / General
Social Science / Future Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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"In Between Two Ages, Van Wishard has provided us with a masterful synthesis of the main currents of history, ranging over the centuries with an experts eye to identify the key trends in economics, technology and culture that have led us to this place in time.

By itself, this would be an important contribution to our understanding. But the true significance of Between Two Ages lies in his placing this analysis within a profoundly moral and ethical framework. Van Wishard has not simply diagnosed the reasons for our spiritual malaise. He has also suggested how each of us can overcome this malaise and find a larger purpose or meaning to our lives.

From the foreword by Dr. Mitchell B. Reiss
Dean of International Affairs
College of William & Mary

Introduction

Despite the stratospheric heights of the Dow in recent years, the allure of prosperity and the astounding possibilities opening up for human fulfillment, the next three decades could be the most decisive 30-year period in the history of mankind. Thus you and I are living in the midst of perhaps the most uncertain period America has ever known -- more difficult than World War II, the Depression or even the Civil War. With these earlier crises, an immediately identifiable, focused emergency existed, an emergency people could see and mobilize to combat.

But the crisis today is of a different character and order. For America is at the vortex of a global cyclone of change so vast and deep that it is uprooting established institutions, altering centuries-old relationships, changing underlying mores and attitudes, and now, so the experts tell us, even threatening the continued existence of the human species. It is not simply change at the margins; it is change at the very core of life. Culture-smashing change. Identity-shattering change. Soul-crushing change. Prior generations faced change within a context of stable institutions that functioned more or less effectively. Earlier generations had a more stableif less comfortableframework, as well as more clearly defined reference points. Our era doesnt have such guides, for all of Americas institutions, from government to family, from business to religion, are in upheaval. The past century has seen civilized life increasingly ripped from its moorings. The immutable certainties that anchored our ancestors no longer seem to hold in a world where the tectonic plates of life are clashing, where human antagonisms obliterate tens of thousands of people in Africa, Bosnia or Chechnya in a matter of a few days or weeks, where a stray bullet ends the life of an elderly lady quietly walking home from church in Washington, D.C. In so many ways, a life that has lost its essential meaning has cut giant swaths across humanity. Clearly, we have been standing at a unique historical dividing line -- the end of the modern era, as well as the Industrial Age, the end of the colonial period, the end of the Atlantic-based economic, political and military global hegemony, the end of Americas culture being drawn primarily from European sources, the end of the masculine patriarchal/hierarchical epoch, and as Joseph Campbell suggests, the end of the Christian eon. Obviously, one era doesnt stop and a new one start in a week. Yearseven decades or generationsof overlap take place. The sense of an age ending and something new emerging was evident during the earliest years of the 20th century. In 1913, Harvard philosopher George Santayana noted: "The civilization characteristic of Christendom has not yet disappeared, yet another civilization has begun to take its place." In 1928, at the height of the "Roaring Twenties," historian Will Durant wrote, "Human conduct and belief are now undergoing transformations profounder and more disturbing than any since the appearance of wealth and philosophy put an end to the tradition

The Polynesian island of Tahiti is in the imagination an island paradise, an idyllic world inhabited by noble savages, carefree and uncomplicated. Tahiti separates myth from reality. Finney describes and analyzes the forces of change that have confronted Tahiti and its inhabitants in the modern world. As the author notes in the introduction, "Neither isolation in the South Pacific, nor the romantic aura invested in them by philosophers and escapists of the West, has saved Tahitians from intense involvement in the twin processes of industrialization and urbanization."

This study of Tahitian life concentrates upon two different communities. One is a peasant community moving from subsistence farming to an increased reliance upon the production of cash crops. The other is a proletarian community whose members were at the time abandoning farming and fishing in favor of wage labor. Finney compares the two contemporaneous communities, enabling him to define different but interrelated variables of the economic and social change. These are responsible for Tahiti's evolution from a subsistence oriented peasant life to a life based increasingly on cash crops and wage labor.

What happens to family life, work patterns, land use, and other traditional modes of social organization when a small, underdeveloped society is confronted with economic forces largely beyond its control? In dealing with this question as it applies to Tahiti, Finney makes an important contribution to our understanding of how modernization affects a society once thought to be outside the boundaries of the modern world. A major study in English of the socio-economic forces at work in Tahiti, this book provides the reader with both an understanding of the changing nature of Tahitian life, and the reactions of Tahitians to such changes.

Ben R. Finney is professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii at Manoa and has done extensive fieldwork in New Guinea and Hawaii. His current research interests include Polynesian voyaging canoes and methods of navigation, and radio astronomy searches for extraterrestrial intelligent life combined with the impact on mankind of exploring and expanding into space.

The bestselling author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel surveys the history of human societies to answer the question: What can we learn from traditional societies that can make the world a better place for all of us?

“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book." Bookpage


Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.

This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.
Official U.S. edition with full color illustrations throughout.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the critically-acclaimed New York Times bestseller and international phenomenon Sapiens, returns with an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.

Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style—thorough, yet riveting—famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.

With the same insight and clarity that made Sapiens an international hit and a New York Times bestseller, Harari maps out our future.

A penetrating, page-turning tour of a post-human Earth

In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us.In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.
The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and how, as the world's cities crumble, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dali Lama, and paleontologists---who describe a prehuman world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths---Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn't depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.

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