I attended a lecture at the Microsoft campus yesterday, given by the professor Jared Diamond, who wrote the Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies as well as the The Third Chimpanzee : The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal .
I read the book this past Christmas from my brother’s bookshelf and found it incredibly engrossing. It describes the history of human civilization and technology from an evolutionary perspective, and answers the questions why Europeans rather than Asian, Africans, or Native Americans, through accidents of history, were able to develop technologies and immunities and to eventually conquer and colonize the rest of the world.
The book is fairly authoritative, quite thick, and includes wide ranges of examples throughout history. I especially liked his discussion of how humans co-evolved with domesticated animals, domesticated plants, and common diseases.
His lecture was focused on his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , which describes why great civilizations fail and succeed over time, and applies the lessons from history to provide possible solutions to avert a potential collapse of present civilization due to five major factors—environmental damage, climate change, enemies, nonadaptive cultural values, .
He starts off with the well-known example of Easter Island, an isolated island, where inhabitants destroyed the island and ultimately themselves over several generations, and warns that a parallel situation is happening with the world. He refers to many ancient societies, such as Roman Empire, Maya, Anasazi, Greenland, that eventually collapsed, and others that averted potential disaster such as Japanese. He points to imminent collapse of several countries (including Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti, Montana) based on poor choices made, and contrasts their collapse with adjacent, nearly similar countries (Haiti versus Dominican Republic).