Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change by Jared Diamond - review by John Gray

John Gray

Learning to Deal

Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change


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For the proponents of many contemporary orthodoxies, Jared Diamond’s belief that geography accounts for some of the enduring features of global politics is an intellectual and political provocation. In his bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, he argued that Western global dominance was at least partly the result of geographical factors. In Collapse (2005), he considered how societies fail, analysing those of Easter Island and the Maya, among others, and suggesting that environmental factors are often crucial in determining how long communities survive and how they become extinct. In The World Until Yesterday (2012), he claimed that while hunter-gatherers and other traditional communities enjoyed certain advantages over advanced societies, they lived in a condition of more or less continuous warfare. Although Diamond caveated these claims in various ways, they were enough to earn him ferocious criticism from more correct-thinking academic colleagues. He had ignored the role of Western imperialism, they raged, and passed over the ways in which it disrupted and damaged other societies.

Diamond’s claims may have been vulnerable to some of these criticisms. But, as he explains, his critics did not confine themselves to advancing counter-arguments:

I’ve now repeatedly been sued, threatened with lawsuits, and verbally abused by scholars disagreeing with me. My lecture hosts have been forced to

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