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A Bill Gates Summer Reading Pick
A "riveting and illuminating" (Yuval Noah Harari) new theory of how and why some nations recover from trauma and others don't, by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of the landmark bestsellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse.
In his international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, in his third book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes -- a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises.
Diamond compares how six countries have survived recent upheavals -- ranging from the forced opening of Japan by U.S. Commodore Perry's fleet, to the Soviet Union's attack on Finland, to a murderous coup or countercoup in Chile and Indonesia, to the transformations of Germany and Austria after World War Two. Because Diamond has lived and spoken the language in five of these six countries, he can present gut-wrenching histories experienced firsthand. These nations coped, to varying degrees, through mechanisms such as acknowledgment of responsibility, painfully honest self-appraisal, and learning from models of other nations. Looking to the future, Diamond examines whether the United States, Japan, and the whole world are successfully coping with the grave crises they currently face. Can we learn from lessons of the past?
Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet.
Drastic national course corrections flow from complex social psychologies, according to this rich but unfocused treatise in comparative history. Pulitzer-winning UCLA geography professor Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel) examines episodes of national upheaval and change, including Japan's opening to the West after 1853, Finland's accommodation of the Soviet Union after they fought during WWII, and Chile's whipsawing from Salvador Allende's socialist regime to Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship to liberal democracy. He analyzes these developments through the lens of "crisis therapy," a psychological treatment program for trauma victims, identifying 12 factors that help societies rebound from crises, including honest self-appraisal, a strong identity and core values, flexibility, help from external sources, and freedom from geopolitical constraints. He also applies these factors to present-day crises, including Japan's population decline, America's political polarization, and climate change. Diamond offers far-ranging, erudite, lucid accounts of historical cruxes, spiced by sharp-eyed personal observations he seems to have been everywhere of national characters and quirks. Unfortunately, his social-psychological framework lacks the concise explanatory power of his books on geographical and environmental influences on history; his factors often seem like squishy truisms that fit any happenstance without proving much beyond the importance of realism and adaptability. The result is a suite of notable historical retrospectives that point in no singular direction.