The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse considers how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes—a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises.
Diamond...doesn't appear to have the highest of hopes for the fate of the U.S., but that's no reason to skip Upheaval, his fascinating look at how countries have dealt with nationwide crises, and what we might be able to learn from them. The idea behind Upheaval is a captivating one that draws from both history and psychology ... Perhaps most interesting—and chilling—is Diamond's chapter on Chile, a country with 'a long history of democratic government' until 1973, when its government was seized by its armed forces in a coup ... Although its subject matter is intrinsically distressing, Upheaval is not a gloomy or pessimistic book. Diamond is neither a cheerleader who promises that America, because it's somehow special, is incapable of dying, nor a doomsayer ... Diamond is an endlessly engaging writer, and the experience of reading Upheaval is similar to taking a college course from a professor who's as charming as he is polymathic. He's gifted at explaining the context of various national crises, providing fascinating background information (and sometimes personal anecdotes) without ever getting distracted by tangents. Diamond has an impressive range of knowledge ... Anyone with an interest in history, psychology, or the future of the country will find much to admire in Upheaval, and Diamond's take on how our nation might navigate its path forward is fascinating reading for anyone anxious about the state of the republic today.
...a lively, though engagingly idiosyncratic, look at the forces that shape nations and the way leaders behave when faced with the inevitable consequences of those forces. And before he’s finished he focuses on the United States and the challenges of our time. Spoiler alert: He’s more optimistic than readers may expect in the face of climate change, political paralysis, public incivility, and low voter turnout ... The great pleasure of this volume is the random intriguing insights peppered throughout these cases ...
Some readers may regard Diamond as a chronic worrier—he deplores barriers to voting, the high cost of elections, social and financial inequality, decreased economic mobility, the decline in investment in education, and huge variations in educational opportunities across the states, races, and classes. But no. He’s actually an optimist, though of a curmudgeonly sort.
Upheaval examines such large countries as the United States, Finland, Japan, and Chile, and mainly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Through them, Diamond hopes to show how nations have made it through destabilizing crises. But what we see instead is how poorly suited his approach—honed on nonindustrial and isolated societies—is for large, connected ones in an age of globalization ... What remains is a 'narrative survey,' speculative and loose ... The problem isn’t merely that Diamond has jettisoned statistical analysis. It’s that the crisp explanations that populated Guns, Germs, and Steel...are missing ... Diamond isn’t noticeably wrong in these judgments, vague as they are; it’s just that he adds little to our understanding by them ... There are joys here, particularly in Diamond’s historical accounts. He narrates Finnish guerrilla tactics against the Red Army in World War II with infectious glee ... He applies a similar gusto to the tale of nineteenth-century Japan ... Yet the closer he gets to his own time and place, the less brightly this crazy Diamond shines ... the meandering accounts that follow offer mainly middle-class nostrums and bland conventional wisdom ... Diamond seems unsteady in a world illuminated by iPhone screens. Complex countries, global economies, and international politics strain his 'nations are like people' view of things.