Friday, July 8, 2005
Recently read: Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It's an interesting book, with a weighty theme, but it has to be the worst-written important nonfiction bestseller I've ever read. Misplaced adjectives, dull text, creaky attempts to personalise vast issues ... but the ideas and the information are so intriguing, it just about makes up for it. Diamond looks at how and why societies collapse., and sometimes why they don't. He makes a strong case for the environment, and a society's management or mismanagement of the environment, as a key reason. He looks at a number of societies quickjly, and a couple in depth, including the Greenland Norse. The problem is that most of the societies he examines — the Maya, the Anasazi, Easter Island — have left little or no written records behind them, meaning that there's little to be gleaned on an individual level. It's not surprising that when he examines modern societies the book becomes much more interesting. It's too simple to say that the book provides a warning or a wake-up to the modern-day First World; rather, it demonstrates some ways in which the First World interacts with the rest of the world, and puts that in a historical context, implying certain patterns of societal development. It's a worthwhile effort, and worth reading, but the prose really does get in the way.