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Upheaval How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change

By: Jared Diamond(Author)
532 pages, 32 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour illustrations; b/w maps
Publisher: Allen Lane
NHBS
A bold piece of comparative history, Upheaval attempts to carve out a new research programme by applying findings from personal crisis therapy to countries.
Upheaval
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  • Upheaval ISBN: 9780241003398 Hardback May 2019 In stock
    £24.99
    #245922
Price: £24.99
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About this book

In his landmark international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, at a time when crises are erupting around the world, he reveals what makes certain nations resilient in the face of tremendous upheaval.

In a riveting journey into the recent past, he traces how six countries have survived defining catastrophes – from the forced opening of Japan to the Soviet invasion of Finland to Chile's brutal Pinochet regime – through selective change, a coping mechanism more commonly associated with personal trauma. He identifies unique patterns in the way that these distinctive modern nations – all countries in which he has lived – have recovered from these upheavals. Looking ahead to the gravest threats we face in the future, he investigates the risk that the United States, and the world, are squandering their natural advantages and are on a devastating path towards catastrophe. Is this fate inevitable? Or can we still learn from the 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 the factors that influence how both nations and individuals can respond to enormous challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal yet.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A bold piece of comparative history
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 3 Jun 2019 Written for Hardback


    The subtitle of this book could also be reworded as a question. How, indeed, do nations cope with crises such as war? With Upheaval, geography professor Jared Diamond puts forward a rather unorthodox suggestion for answering this question. Psychologists and specifically crisis therapists have gained a lot of insight into how individuals deal with and overcome crises in their personal lives. Taking a list of twelve factors that influence this, Upheaval is both a thought experiment and a piece of comparative history that tries to apply this framework to six nations that went through a crisis.

    As Diamond immediately admits, nations are not individuals. So what value is there in his proposed approach? Well, he writes, personal crises are something we can all relate to, so it can help non-historians to better relate to national crises. And he hopes that the framework that crisis therapists use could form a starting point for historians to develop something similar to understand how and why nations overcome crises the way they do. Clearly, Diamond is not one to let age get in the way of trying to carve out a new research programme.

    He introduces his list of twelve factors and how they translate from individuals to nations. Without wanting to rehash that whole list here, they include recognisable points such as acknowledging a problem and taking responsibility for it, getting help and looking towards others as role models, and factors such as self-appraisal, previous experience, patience, and flexibility.

    Over half of the book then introduces six nations that Diamond lived or worked in during his lifetime, and gives very readable overviews of defining episodes in their recent history. This includes Finland’s armed resistance to the Soviet Union during World War II, the sudden opening of Japan to Western influences from 1853 onwards, Pinochet’s regime in Chile, the birth of Indonesia and the rule of Sukarno and Suharto, the rebuilding of Germany after WWII and the eventual reunification of East and West Germany, and the national identity crisis of Australia as the influence of Britain waned post-WWII.

    This is both an awful lot of ground to cover, but also a very limited sample to base your ideas on. Diamond is unabashedly frank in acknowledging these limitations: “It was agonizing for me to contemplate condensing five vertical feet of material on post-war Germany into one chapter of 11,000 words. So much had to be omitted!” (p. 13). Why these six, and not, for example, Russia, which underwent great crises under the communist dictatorships of Stalin and Lenin, or China, which sacrificed millions of its citizens in its Great Leap Forward? Diamond has no personal experience with these countries, nor mastery of their languages, so rather than overreach, he limits himself here. Not acknowledged is the fact that all his examples effectively revolve around armed conflict (wars, coups, and military dictatorships). Notably absent from the list are natural disasters, pandemics, and famines.

    Even so, I found these chapters to be very well written, concise overviews of historical periods that are not always given much airtime in general history books, and that I was not necessarily very familiar with. Having lived in Helsinki for five years, reading more about their Winter War was very interesting. Similarly, Sukarno and Suharto were frequently mentioned on the Dutch evening news when I was a child, but I was not necessarily well-versed into what actually happened.

    One can expect knowledgeable historians to go over this with a fine-toothed comb and find much in the way of generalisations and omissions to fault him for. What no doubt opens Diamond up for such criticism is his decision to not litter his text with footnotes to individual scholarly references for every little fact. Instead, for each chapter, he provides a recommended reading list of books available in large general libraries. Add to this his personal narrative and the space given to anecdotes and experiences from friends in each of these countries, and you can see why some critics have been giving him a hard time.

    The last part of the book considers current crises in Japan and the USA, as well as major sources of concern for the world at large. He is not afraid to call out both countries on their weaknesses and blind spots (e.g. Japan’s refusal to accept immigrants to bolster its ageing population, or the US’s proud exceptionalism and refusal to draw lessons from other parts of the world such as Canada or Western Europe).

    The chapter on global crises for me was worth the price of admission alone. Though I am perhaps not nearly as afraid of the threat of nuclear weapons as I should be, I was pleased to see Diamond openly naming the double whammy of overpopulation and resource consumption. That kind of frank owing up to hard limits and calling out our delirious dream that we can have it all is something that is still sorely lacking in many quarters in my opinion.

    It is impossible to mention Diamond without mentioning his bestselling works Guns, Germs and Steel or Collapse. Even the publicists open the dustjacket blurb by referencing these books. Like famous musicians whose fans clamour for a repeat of the hit album, Diamond runs the risk of becoming a victim of his own success. I get the feeling he is bracing himself for this possibility by clearly outlining what this book is and is not. Both in opening and closing the book, he reiterates the limitations of his selection, the narrative rather than quantitative approach of his book, and the exploratory thought experiment it is. He unapologetically writes: “It remains for other authors to test to what extent my conclusions derived from this non-random sample of nations apply to other nations.” (p. 15). And you know what, I am okay with that, it is the kind of honesty I really appreciate from an author.

    So, sure, Upheaval might not be Guns, Germs and Steel 2. Everyone, relax your expectations already, will you? Is there value in applying Diamond’s proposed crisis therapy framework to nations? I think there are interesting conclusions that he draws throughout the book to suggest that, yes, there is. Fleshing out his ideas and seeing if it applies to other kinds of crises I mentioned earlier will keep social scientists occupied for years to come, and he gives useful pointers on how to start doing this. As such, Upheaval is a bold, thought-provoking book, albeit with its limitations, that will no doubt stir discussion and disagreement in places. For the more general reader, it is also a fascinating piece of comparative history that profits from some darn fine writing.
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Biography

Jared Diamond is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the seminal million-copy-bestseller Guns, Germs and Steel, which was named one of Time magazine's best non-fiction books of all time, Collapse, a No. 1 international bestseller, and The World Until Yesterday, among other books. A professor of geography at UCLA and noted polymath, Diamond's work has been influential in the fields of anthropology, biology, ornithology, ecology and history, among others.

By: Jared Diamond(Author)
532 pages, 32 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour illustrations; b/w maps
Publisher: Allen Lane
NHBS
A bold piece of comparative history, Upheaval attempts to carve out a new research programme by applying findings from personal crisis therapy to countries.
Media reviews


"Jared Diamond is an undisputed global star of comparative history [...] Britain could learn from this book about how other nations have dealt with turmoil [...] He finds intellectually stimulating and unusual examples that provide much food for thought."
– Andrew Marr, The Times

"[Diamond] wears the mantle of a modern-day prophet [...] opens textures of historical possibility."
– Book of the Day, The Guardian

"Persuasive [...] runs refreshingly counter to conventional wisdom"
– Bloomberg

"A riveting and illuminating tour of how nations deal with crises-which might hopefully help humanity as a whole deal with our present global crisis."
– Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

"Jared Diamond does it again: another rich, original, and fascinating chapter in the human saga-with vital lessons for our difficult times."
– Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now

"Upheaval is a brilliant, gripping, personal account of nations in crisis, informed by how people respond to crisis. It's an especially timely read today, when nations are stressed and have much to learn about how to survive big challenges. I urge you to read it."
– Paul Ehrlich, author of Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic

"In Upheaval, I find eye-opening lessons about the political and psychological forces that lead to crisis and then resilience, how individuals and nations experience trauma in similar ways, and what that suggests about our future and the world's [...] wise and beautiful."
– Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife

"Jared Diamond is one of the deepest thinkers and most authoritative writers of our time – arguably of all time – and Upheaval proves his prescience in analyzing historical crises within nations at a time when national crises have erupted around the world [...] No scientist has ever won the Nobel Prize for literature. Jared Diamond should be the first."
– Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of Heavens on Earth

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