Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

by Jared Diamond
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What type of investigative technique described in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed was most impressive and why?

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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed was written by Jared Diamond, who is known for intelligently attempting to explain why nations become prosperous or impoverished, sophisticated or primitive, and long-lasting or short-lived. He masterfully demonstrates a level of thinking that shows an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of certain practices in societies. Diamond makes topics such as history, archaeology, and ecology easy to understand. His most impressive investigative technique is exploring the shared circumstances which plagued ancient societies and modern societies alike to note patterns of destruction.

For example, Diamond's synopsis of environmental problems in Montana showcases his ability to explain a modern situation and compare it to the past. According to Diamond, Montana faces many ecological challenges. Its mining history has left behind toxic waste, which is degrading its water supply and damaging its fishing ecosystem. Additionally, fisherman have introduced pike to some of Montana's bodies of water, which has caused a big size reduction of the trout populations there. Also, Montana faces frequent forest fires because its forest has an abundance of underbrush.

Once Diamond shows the challenges of responding to ecological problems in a modern environment such as Montana, he compares it to collapses from ancient societies. For instance, he explains how the reclusive society on Easter Island collapsed when they cut down their trees, which lead to soil erosion and the starvation of its people. The Polynesian society on the Pitcairn Islands collapsed when one of three islands did not solve its environmental problems.

Diamond concedes that Montana's problems are mild compared to the problems of the past, but his investigative technique, which draws from historical contexts, is quite impressive; he makes his arguments relevant to the modern day. The comparisons allow modern readers to understand why past societies failed and why societies which are not addressing similar environmental challenges may also fail due to almost identical factors.

The resulting framework for analysis allows people to find solutions quickly by spotting patterns of environmental destruction in different societies over time.

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