As our society confronts the impacts of globalization and global systemic risks – such as financial contagion, climate change, and epidemics – what can studies of the past tell us about our present and future? How Worlds Collapse offers case studies of societies that either collapsed or overcame cataclysmic adversity. The authors in this volume find commonalities between past civilizations and our current society, tracing patterns, strategies, and early warning signs that can inform decision-making today. While today's world presents unique challenges, many mechanisms, dynamics, and fundamental challenges to the foundations of civilization have been consistent throughout history-highlighting essential lessons for the future.
Section 1: Theory and Insights of Historical Collapse
1. Globalization and Fragility: A Systems Approach to Collapse / Miguel A. Centeno, Peter W. Callahan, Paul A. Larcey, and Thayer S. Patterson
2. How Scholars Explain Collapse / Joseph A. Tainter
3. Diminishing Returns on Extraction: How Inequality and Extractive Hierarchy Create Fragility / Luke Kemp
4. Collapse, Recovery, and Existential Risk / Haydn Belfield
Section 2: Historical and Archaeological Investigations of Collapse
5. "Mind the Gap": The 1177 BCE Late Bronze Age Collapse and Some Preliminary Thoughts on Its Immediate Aftermath / Eric H. Cline
6. The End of "Peak Empire": The Collapse of the Roman, Han, and Jin Empires / Walter Scheidel
7. Collapse and Non-collapse: The Case of Byzantium ca. 650-800 CE / John Haldon
8. Fluctuat Nec Mergitur: Seven Centuries of Pueblo Crisis and Resilience / Timothy A. Kohler, R. Kyle Bocinsky, and Darcy Bird
9. Episodes of the Feathered Serpent: Aztec Imperialism and Collapse / Deborah L. Nichols and Ryan H. Collins
10. The Black Death: Collapse, Resilience, and Transformation / Samuel K. Cohn, Jr
11. The Cases of Novgorod and Muscovy: Using Systems Thinking to Understand Historical Civilizational Response to Exogenous Threats / Miriam Pollock, Benjamin D. Trump, and Igor Linkov
12. Resilience of the Simple? Lessons from the Blockade of Leningrad / Jeffrey K. Hass
Section 3: Systemic Collapse Insights from Ecology, Climate, and the Environment
13. Climate Change and Tipping Points in Historical Collapse / Timothy M. Lenton
14. Conservation of Fragility and the Collapse of Social Orders / John M. Anderies and Simon A. Levin
15. Resilience and Collapse in Bee Societies and Communities / Christina M. Grozinger and Harland M. Patch
Section 4: Future Systemic Collapse and Quantitative Modeling
16. Producing Collapse: Nuclear Weapons as Preparation to End Civilization / Zia Mian and Benoit Pelopidas
17. From Wild West to Mad Max: Transition in Civilizations / Richard Bookstaber
18. Phase Transitions and the Theory of Early Warning Indicators for Critical Transitions / George I. Hagstrom and Simon A. Levin
19. The Lifespan of Civilizations: Do Societies "Age," or Is Collapse Just Bad Luck? / Anders Sandberg
20. Multipath Forecasting: The Aftermath of the 2020 American Crisis / Peter Turchin
Miguel A. Centeno is Musgrave Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and Executive Vice Dean of Princeton University's School of Public and International Affairs. He is the founder and co-director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) Global Systemic Risk research community.
Peter W. Callahan is a graduate of Princeton University who earned his MS in Geography and Environmental Studies from the University of New Mexico. He is a researcher at Princeton's PIIRS Global Systemic Risk research community where his scholarly interests include the study of socio-ecological systems, historical systemic risks, sustainable development, and renewable energy policy and technology.
Paul A. Larcey is co-director of the PIIRS Global Systemic Risk research community at Princeton University. Larcey's work with the UK's innovation agency focuses on key emerging technologies including life sciences, quantum technologies, and AI. He has worked in corporate research, venture capital, and global industrial sectors at board and senior levels and studied engineering, materials science, and finance at London, Oxford, and Cambridge Universities.
Thayer S. Patterson is the coordinator and a founding member of the PIIRS Global Systemic Risk research community at Princeton University. Following his studies in economics and mechanical engineering at Yale, and finance at Princeton's Bendheim Center for Finance, his research has focused on the causes and consequences of catastrophic systemic risk.
"The editors deserve our gratitude for having assembled these wide-ranging essays. They offer fascinating perspectives on a topic that could hardly be more important for humanity – but which has received far less systematic attention than it merits. Let's hope this book will raise awareness of these possible catastrophes, and thereby help ensure a safer world."
– Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, University of Cambridge, and Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, author of If Science is to Save Us, Our Final Hour, From Here to Infinity, and On the Future
"How did ancient societies crash or reinvent themselves? Can we learn from that? History rhymes. For the ones interested in the search for patterns, this book is a treasure trove."
– Marten Scheffer, Wageningen University and Santa Fe Institute, author of Critical Transitions in Nature and Society
"This must-read volume on collapse presents twenty original contributions from some of the best thinkers on the topic. The chapters explore collapse theory, case studies on individual historical collapses, and how things might change for humanity in the future. Collapse is considered from a range of perspectives: theoretical, historical, ecological, and modeling, providing an important multidisciplinary introduction. It will keep the increasingly important debate on collapse and transformation in the spotlight for some time to come."
– Guy Middleton, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, author of Understanding Collapse: Ancient History and Modern Myths