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Jared Diamond

Am so psyched to have gotten my hands on "Collapse," the new Jared Diamond book. It's a tale of doom. Civilizations rise, expand, exult in their glory, and then one day realize that everything is falling apart, that they've destroyed their environment, that the basic necessities of existence are disappearing. They cut down too many trees. They mismanaged their soil and their supply of fresh water. People are starving, and there are barbarians at the gate. The lurking question of Diamond's book is whether this is a tale of the past or the future.

Diamond is a great explainer, and an unmatched big-picture guy. He's most famous for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning "Guns, Germs and Steel," which deftly manages to explain the rise of European colonialism as an artifact of geography. Europe benefited from the fact that Eurasia is oriented East-West and Africa and the Americas are oriented North-South. This-a-way vs. That-a-way. (Reductionism, anyone?)

I'm just getting started on this new book, and will review it here when I'm done. But I've read Diamond for years, mostly in Discover. He's not quite as quirky or lyrical as the late Stephen Jay Gould, but he has to be listed among the very best science writers in the world (a list that would include David Quammen and Timothy Ferris). To read Diamond is to travel to exotic locales such as Angkor Wat, or Easter Island, or the abandoned Norse settlements of Greenland.

Diamond is not an environmental hysteric: he dedicates the book to Montana ranchers and believes that environmentalists need to understand the needs and practices of big business. But so too should the big business executives and pro-business government officials take the Diamond thesis seriously. It would great if the folks who run the current regime in the White House would crack this book. Or get someone to hand them the Cliff's Notes version.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 28, 2005; 11:38 AM ET
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