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August's read is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. I've got it ordered from the library. At 575 pages, I may need to start it right away.
Has anyone read this? I've read Guns, Germs, and Steel by the author and thought it was good but repetitive.
ETA: Because it is non-fiction there won't be a no spoilers thread.
Jared Diamond has a home in Montana. I live in the Bitterroot Valley and know a member or twp of the Huls family and their diary farm in the introductory bit. When the book came out, I attended a lecture he gave, read the first section on Montana, and then put the book onto the 'to be finished' shelf where it has lived ever since.
Well, we'll see how it goes as long as I have the book! It looks like the library has only four copies and there is a short line for it. I may have to hand the book back in and re-request it. Doesn't look like I'll get it finished this month.
I'm looking forward to this, because I'm very interested in lost civilizations.
Still, the topic is interesting, although the prospect of cows in Montana is a good deal less interesting than what is to follow! (Montana I'm interested in - cows... less so)
(I can't remember if he ever comes back to them or not).
I'm also getting the urge to travel to such far-away destinations as Easter Island, Yucatan and Greenland. I really regret not stopping at Mesa Verde on my road trip through the South Western USA back in 1994.
I would love to read an updated version of the book, as in the Montana chapter in particular he refers to lawsuits, legislation, etc that were unresolved at the time of writing, which might have reached an outcome by now. One thing I do know - since the book was written, the RSPB led a project to eradicate the rat population from Henderson Island (discussed in chapter 3, I think), which seems to have been successful. So with luck, populations of some of the native birds may stabilise.
- Mr Diamond keeps phrasing things in a way that assumes his readership is American. Perhaps he feels his own people need more persuading? I'm not sure, but it does jar slightly for me. My issue, and very minor.
- I'm always a bit antsy about Anasazi vs Ancient Pueblo. They're both labelled as problematic, but Anasazi - which archaeologists and academics have a tendency to cling to 'because it's easier/understood' - remains a bit like referring to the Germans as Krauts in your book. Getting into the nitty gritty of which tribes are included in your Ancient/Ancestral Pueblo definition is more my flavour of archaeological controversy than continuing to adopt language that descendants of those tribes consider offensive. Again, a minor point for me, although less so for the modern Pueblo peoples.
These are really teeny tiny gripes though. Overall, this is a good survey of a number of interesting civilisations, their economic underpinnings, and their flaws - and I'm gripped.
As an aside, in each case study so far, Diamond has commented that the nobility / aristocracy have blithely ignored the pending apocalypse and got on with living it up in denial. Specifically, he refers to the passivity of the Mayan and Easter island chiefs in the face of impending doom - but also refers in the same summation to warfare in the lead up to collapse. I'm not sure how these points reconcile. I wouldn't expect the Mayan kings be going to war for personal prestige as resources dwindle, but rather to seize much-needed resources from their neighbours - hardly a passive response.
I suppose the business analogue there is increasing market share at the cost of the competition; the modern warfare analogue is sadly all too evident, even without the regular reminder of Rwanda.
He's very accurate with the problems he describes in the Bitterroot Valley and Montana in general.
Onward to Easter Island -which I've always found very interesting.
But no, instead we get his personal theory on the fate of the Dorset People - their womenfolk deserted them when it got tough. Let's not consider or mention intermarriage, starvation, migration, enslavement or genocide, eh? No, women just can't stand by their man in tough times. Err, thanks, Mr Diamond. Thanks a bundle.
On a cooler-headed side note - it's astonishing that none of the families in Western Settlement tried to move south to Eastern Settlement, pushing it beyond its tolerances sooner - they couldn't have hoped to settle new farms (no more available land), but they must have known or suspected their southern neighbours had food. Of course, given the apparent state of abandonment or overrun that Western Settlement was found in, perhaps this is exactly what happened - but they never made it.
Anyway, thankfully I am past those chapters now and starting to read the discussion on Tikiopia.
Also, bits of it were fascinating and bits of it were appalling (i.e. Rwanda - our ability to do awful things, not suggesting the writing was appalling!) and there's lots of food for thought (along with a few more random things that had me blinking with bemusement; such as the throwaway reference to being able to acquire resistance to HIV - y'what now? I thought that was strictly down to a (fairly rare) genetic trait? - and the Indian caste system meaning that India didn't have sustainability issues - err, yes, it does. In spades. Plus massive social issues rooted in the caste system. Anyway, moving on..).
I did find the business case studies at the end really interesting (e.g. Chevron vs Pertamina); although it's a little glib (and yes, unpopular) to say that public pressure on business to adopt better practice (and pass those costs on) is the 'easy' answer. This is assumes the public can afford to pay higher prices for a more ethical/sustainable product - but not everyone can afford to make ethical purchasing choices. However, I suppose social media is the game-changer here - where the purchasing must often follow a path of least cost resistance, we can now voice distaste and distrust online and this has resulted in changes to some business practices.
I guess my TL;DR thoughts are: really interesting, slightly dogmatic (but preaching to the choir in my case; I'll be curious to hear what Morphy makes of it), but ultimately I felt there were just too many case studies (both ancient and modern). The repetition between case studies and within them became both wearying and frustrating. It also got rather depressing - ultimately, no matter how much room for optimism Diamond may see, an awful lot rides on China in the short term and on India and Indonesia in the not-so-much-longer term, as they are rapidly doing more damage more quickly than we're reining ourselves in from doing over here - and us exporting half our extraction and rubbish issues to them doesn't help!
Um. I'm going to go find something much more cheerful now :)
Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. It's been great to read.
I found Jared Diamond's website, which provides a bit of updated information. I read the earlier edition of the book, which did not include a section on Angkor.