Upheaval aims to be a paradigm shifting book. Coming from the author of Guns, Germs and Steel this is by no means an unrealistic goal. In Guns, Germs and Steel Dr. Diamond attempted to explain much of cultural history and differences as the result of geographic variance. While not uncontroversial, it did spawn a large discussion on the role of geography in human history and an acknowledgement of the previous neglect of its importance.
So when Diamond asserts that he wants to generate research for the next several decades on the factors that lead nations to overcome crises he is not speaking from mere hubris. However, I found Upheaval to be largely an exercise in loose analogies and long narratives with few testable hypotheses. While pleasant reading it is not the epochal work the author intended.
Diamond takes twelve principles from the well-established field of crisis response in psychology and applies them analogously to seven nation states in which he has legitimate subject matter expertise. But because most of us do not, he spends most of the book relating little known areas of world history such as Finland’s resistance to Russian imperialism or Meiji Japan’s reaction to modernization.
Again, while interesting, these histories are not paradigm shifting material. And the extent to which the 12 rules of personal crises correspond to national crises is not well established. That the last third of the book offers a rather standard liberal perspective on solving contemporary American crises is no help. Partisan gridlock (fueled by the Tea Party), restrictive voter registration laws and lack of spending on education are only crises if you think that government has the solutions to the nation’s problems. Those coming from a more libertarian or fiscally conservative perspective will be grinding their teeth.
In short, while an impressive survey of modern history, I did not find it in the same league as some of the author’s earlier works. Recommended only for those who stand in long lines at Barnes and Noble to get the next book by Diamond. Enjoyable but not paradigm shifting. Read if you want to judge for yourself whether Diamond has produced another masterpiece.
- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (7 May 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316409138
- ISBN-13: 978-0316409131
- Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 4.7 x 24.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 848 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)