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Upheaval by Jared Diamond


by Jared Diamond

Quick take

When you play the game of nations, you win or you die.


Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now, he reveals how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes—a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises.

Diamond compares how six countries have survived recent upheavals—ranging from the forced opening of Japan by U.S. Commodore Perry's fleet, to the Soviet Union's attack on Finland, to a murderous coup or countercoup in Chile and Indonesia, to the transformations of Germany and Austria after World War Two. Because Diamond has lived and spoken the language in five of these six countries, he can present gut-wrenching histories experienced firsthand. These nations coped, to varying degrees, through mechanisms such as acknowledgment of responsibility, painfully honest self-appraisal, and learning from models of other nations. Looking to the future, Diamond examines whether the United States, Japan, and the whole world are successfully coping with the grave crises they currently face. Can we learn from 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 factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Upheaval.

Why I love it

A touchy-feely 20-something who loves to cry while reading, I may not be what you’d think of as the target audience for a book by the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. But the joke’s on you, because I’ve had a ton of therapy, and Jared Diamond’s new book is all about understanding national crises through the lens of personal ones.

In Upheaval, Diamond draws on twelve factors that, according to crisis therapy, predict success in personal trauma. Through his historical studies of Finland, Meiji Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, and Australia—and his examination of current crises facing Japan, the United States, and the world—Diamond reveals how these same factors (including things like honest self-appraisal) can help predict the resiliency of nations, too. Like a crisis counselor, Upheaval takes the mess and confusion of trauma and provides scope, structure, and strategies to succeed.

We live in a world that is increasingly cause for alarm. But this fascinating and informative read gave me a new and empowered perspective on the crises facing our country and world today. Upheaval provides a roadmap for handling the crises that likely await us all, personally or nationally, in the future.

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