How societies choose to fail or succeed
by Jared Diamond
Anthropologists are cool. At least for people who are curious about the world; not necessarily if you’re interested in things in which I have basically zero interest (auto racing, football, lacrosse, among others. Hey, this is my blog, I’ll opine as I choose). But if you have any curiosity about the world at all, Jared Diamond’s work has to be of some interest to you. I was reminded that I was interested in his work when I had a day job, and as usual I just never had time to look into his books. I started to read this particular work just as I began to watch the National Geographic presentation of his book GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, about how geography, technology, and exploration (and the human assumption that “What I think is the most important”) are interconnected and how some societies develop certain ways while others do not. Anyway, Collapse is about how, again, societies may rise and fall and some of them never get back up, while others stumble but manage to keep going and even thrive under less than ideal circumstances. Understanding how the environment of the society involved can be either a detriment or a challenge makes a big difference in survival.
COLLAPSE has a lot in common with a suspenseful thriller. I realized that as I read chapters (they concentrate on various civilizations, how the remains of them were found abandoned, how they must have been founded and risen and collapsed and why), I was reading parts aloud to an amused husband as I was racing through the pages, eager to find out what happened next. The amazing thing is that like a thriller or a mystery or a romance (genre fiction all, of course), you can pretty much guess what happens at the end with these cultures, but you want to find out how they got there. Some cultures it’s all speculation and technology to figure out what happens because there wasn’t a written record (then of course there were written records for the Maya civilization, but the European religious overlords BURNED most everything), but sometimes there is a record, making the mystery not as mysterious.
After reading this book, if you still think that everything always turns out the way it should, well, I guess we can say that yes, things change. Cultures do die and are reborn and are thrive, but how it all happens, the choices made (and in some cases, the choices forced on those civilizations) can make all the difference.
And how often can you say a work of nonfiction reads like a thriller?
Coming up: SPLENDOUR FALLS by Susanna Kearsley, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (and specifically, how I managed to avoid reading anything from this late master of literature, and why I wasn’t an English major), THE FIFTEENTH PELICAN, THE COMIC BOOK HISTORY OF COMICS, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, and more!