SnakThe Green Dragon

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aug 3, 2014, 11:50 am

I had this posted in the wrong group!

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.

aug 3, 2014, 1:03 pm

I'm going to read it sometime, but I doubt that I'll get to it in August. I haven't even finished the July book, and it is short!

As I said in the other thread, I liked Guns, Germs, and Steel, but was not impressed with some of his arguments. I could not get into The World Until Yesterday at all.

Redigeret: aug 3, 2014, 2:31 pm

>2 SylviaC: Yay Sylvia! A kindred spirit! I found The World until Yesterday repetitive, academic, dry dry dry and b-o-r-i-n-g, so gave up about 1/5-way in.

ETA: and probably self-indulgent as well.

aug 3, 2014, 2:45 pm

>3 hfglen: My experience was identical. I did flip ahead to see if it got better, but it didn't.

aug 3, 2014, 3:52 pm

>4 SylviaC: Pity. There's a story in there that would make a good book, if written by someone else.

aug 3, 2014, 10:32 pm

>1 Morphidae: I loved Guns, Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee. I got halfway through Collapse and started to get depressed. I might try to pick it back up and join you guys though.

>2 SylviaC: & >3 hfglen: Uh oh. I have that one in the stacks somewhere.

aug 4, 2014, 11:42 am

At the risk of being overwhelmed by group reads this month, I'm in - I've been meaning to read Collapse for years, so this is a good excuse to go ahead and do so!

aug 4, 2014, 12:03 pm

I'm going to give it a go too.

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.

aug 6, 2014, 10:15 pm

Dang, the print in this book is minuscule! If I don't make it through, it will be because my eyes give out.

aug 7, 2014, 8:02 am

I read the introduction and it's decent reading so far. I'm afraid there is going to be the usual weakness of repetition though. I'm already noticing tinges of it. I also didn't know this book was mostly based on ecological collapse. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm an "eco-moderate" and don't like when people get on soap-boxes. We'll see how it goes.

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.

aug 7, 2014, 9:59 am

I'm finding the introduction very readable, too. (Except for the tiny font issue, and the fact that the pages are falling out as I read them.) Diamond always seems to use a lot of repetition. He's a strong believer in telling us what he's going to say, saying it, then telling us what he said. Plus running through it all in the introduction and the conclusion, for good measure. I never worry about missing anything the first time, because I know he'll say it again.

I'm looking forward to this, because I'm very interested in lost civilizations.

aug 7, 2014, 12:21 pm

I'm going to have to tackle this in moderate bites as I don't get on well with repetition at all. Telling me what you're going to tell me so you can tell me what you want to tell me is the surest way to have me interrupt you gently and reassure you I got it. And reach for another book ;)

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)

aug 8, 2014, 6:52 am

...and I must admit, the discussion of environmental factors in Montana is proving to be fascinating. Although, so far, no cows ;)

aug 8, 2014, 9:08 am

>13 imyril: Ah, you must have missed them. The cows are just in the first few pages of the prologue where my friends' dairy farm is mentioned along with the Norse farm from five hundred years ago.

aug 8, 2014, 9:52 am

>14 streamsong: Heh, I caught them there - it was just that he mentioned them in such a way that I thought he was going to come back and dwell on them at length :) I don't mind cows in small doses; I grew up in dairy country...

aug 8, 2014, 10:38 am

Oh, good. I'm glad you didn't miss them. Because here in the Bitterroot Valley, that brief mention is considered the whole POINT of the book. :-)

(I can't remember if he ever comes back to them or not).

aug 9, 2014, 8:25 am

I've just reached the first chapter about Greenland, and have found this a fascinating read so far. I appreciate the reminders about points he raised in earlier chapters when comparing and contrasting the different societies, as I'm having to read the book in small chunks on my commute, so that is useful to aid my poor memory. I like that he is not trying to claim that his theories are the only ones out there, and is honest about the fact that there may never be a definitive answer to the questions he raises. I'm also not finding it preachy, although perhaps that is because I'm mostly in sympathy with the ecological movement and so agree with the need to be more careful in our use of land and other resources.

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.

Redigeret: aug 13, 2014, 5:24 am

I'm tracking a little behind sakerfalcon but likewise finding this a great read and not annoyingly repetitive so far (once I got past the introduction). I do wonder whether I will eventually drown in case studies, but as I've been fascinated by Easter Island, the ancient Pueblo peoples, and the Maya since I was a tiny thing staring at picture books on my grandad's knee it's all good. Greenland and Montana are grown-up fascinations, so I almost feel pandered to. Don't worry, I know this wasn't written for me, and here's how I can tell - there are 2 teeny tiny things that are annoying me:

- 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.

aug 13, 2014, 7:58 am

I love my library but sometimes it is strange. For older books, sometimes they have more than one edition. Each edition will have its own entry. I was re-requesting Collapse when I saw there was another version with books available rather than a wait list. The one I originally ordered had 4 copies and was published in 2005. This one had 12 copies and was published in 2011. The page count is slightly different. Whaaatever...

aug 13, 2014, 8:23 am

>19 Morphidae: oooh an updated edition? That could be interesting - you may a slightly different take on both Montana and Iceland (as my version keeps referring to how the Icelanders overcame a marginal environment to become one of the most prosperous per capita nations in the world - which was true in 2005, but would have looked like it had ended in total economic collapse by 2011. Now it looks different again of course :)

aug 13, 2014, 8:41 am

I thought the prologue was absolutely deadly - thirty pages of what I am going to tell you and how it all ties together. I'd say if someone is struggling in that part to skip it and go on to chapter one, where his prose becomes much more readable.

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.

aug 14, 2014, 5:27 am

Hohum. I've now completed the Greenland chapters, and found myself gritting my teeth through the second two - firstly for them seeming rather strung out (a lot of superfluous detail that adds colour but not substance to the core topic - enough to say surely, as in the Pacific, that the other Atlantic islands were less marginal, uncontested and closer to Norway?); secondly for a lot of repetition creeping in when he finally settled down to talk about Greenland; and finally because of the way the written and oral records were handled: the flimsy written records as gospel (I thought we'd all agreed to stop doing that a few decades back?) and the oral history of the Inuit referred to as existing but then not used (oral history is even more suspect, but given the sparsity of evidence it may hold clues on the fate of the Dorset People and Western Settlement), which I found very frustrating. I'm really curious to know more about the Inuit version of what happened in Greenland.

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.

Redigeret: aug 15, 2014, 6:31 am

I agree that the Greenland chapters are so far the weakest part of the book. It seemed to me as though he didn't have enough material to merit 3 chapters - one on Iceland etc and one on Greenland specifically would have been plenty. As it was, the two chapters on Greenland felt rambling and padded with repetition. Both chapters were poorly structured and, for all their length, they left several points mentioned but then not discussed, such as that mentioned in imyril's second paragraph above, which was a random throwaway comment that left me thinking "Huh?" Diamond is clearly at his best as a writer when forced to meet a lower word count.

Anyway, thankfully I am past those chapters now and starting to read the discussion on Tikiopia.

aug 22, 2014, 1:22 pm

So, first things first: thank you Morphidae - I've been meaning to read this for ages, and having a group read a) galvanised me to actually do so and b) forced me to actually finish it, and I hate abandoning books, so thank you!

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 :)

aug 22, 2014, 6:45 pm

I just got Collapse back from the library so I'll dig in again. I'm not reading it straight through but interspersing it with other stuff. I doubt I could handle a full dose of it!

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone. It's been great to read.

okt 19, 2014, 9:10 pm

I finally finished, after finding a more readable copy than the one I started out with. I liked it a lot. I liked Guns, Germs, and Steel, but preferred Collapse because his arguments were better organized, and seemed more solid. (Except the odd time when he went off into fantasy, as in the case of the Dorset women--but at least he made it clear that he was just imagining.) I expected to be interested in the case studies of ancient civilizations, but was surprised to be drawn into the modern society and big business sections, too. I'm glad he tried to end on a "cautiously optimistic" note, because so much of the book was discouraging. Myself, I'm afraid I don't have very high hopes for being able to turn things around at this point.

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.