Nonfiction — print. Penguin, 2006. Originally published 2005. 576 pgs. Purchased.
Subtitled “How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, Diamond takes readers through a series of societies — past and present — that collapsed due to environmental damage. Some of societies included are the typical examples — Mayan culture in South America, Easter Island, and forest degradation in Haiti — while others were completely unexpected.
I never expected the book to start with Montana, although it’s information about agriculture and soil composition in the state will certainly be helpful with my honors thesis. However, I don’t think using Montana as the introduction — no matter how interesting I found it — served his purposes. The jump for Montana to Easter Island was not nearly as smooth as it should have been; in fact, it felt a lot like Diamond wanted to express his love and appreciation for the big sky of Montana first and foremost.
The section on modern societies was the more interesting part of this book possibly because these societies are more tangible or understandable to me as a reader. That doesn’t mean I found Diamond’s reasoning particularly compelling just more interesting. His reasoning for the genocide in Rwanda fly in the face of everything I’ve ever read on the subject; his section on Haiti and the Dominican Republic represent a distinct lack of understanding about the role of dictators in environmental degradation or vice versa. Australia sounds like it’s just about a year away from total environmental collapse, which would be a great disappointment to my friends who have studied abroad and fallen in love with the country.
The Honors Project:
I read this book for The Honors Project, my own personal challenge to read more books about economics, food, and/or geography in preparation for writing my honors thesis. My goal for this project is to learn as much as I can about these topics so I can formulate better questions and, in turn, produce a better honors thesis. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.