Book Reviews 2005 (46-47)

Two books up this time, diametrically opposite in tone and freight.
Collapse, by Jared Diamond
Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeedby Jared Diamond.
Diamond’s next big book after the Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs and Steel, which I first mentioned on my blog a couple of years ago., Diamond tackles another thorny problem–why do some civilizations descend and fall?
Its not as simple an answer as one might think. Diamond identifies several key factors that are often present in the fall of civilizations, and takes some case studies throughout history of societies that either succumbed to these challenges, or got through their times of troubles. From the classic case of Easter Island, through the Norse settlers of Greenland, to Medieval Japan and modern Rwanda, Diamond focuses aggressively on environmental concerns, but points out that it is one (albeit large) piece of larger puzzles. The Greenland settlers, while climate change certainly caused them difficulty, also had hostilities from the nearby Inuit to deal with. On the other hand, Easter Islander troubles were solely the product of their own rapacious destruction of native wildlife and foliage.
Diamond looks at the modern day, in the case of Rwanda (not a straightforward case of “ethnic cleansing” as you might believe), and modern civilization in general. He does not prescribe solutions, that’s not the point or the goal of his book. Instead his is the role of the canary in the coal mine.
It’s a dense, thick book, a slower read than Guns, Germs and Steel. While he does end on an optimistic note, the book is not a happy read by any means. But it is an important book, and I commend it to everyone.
Highly Recommended

Reaper Man (Discworld, Book 11) by Terry Pratchett.
A much lighter read than Collapse, Reaper Man is the 11th in the Discworld novel, focusing on the forced retirement of Death, and the challenges that result from it. Windle Poons, 130 year old wizard, expecting and awaiting his death, doesn’t…quite die. Death himself takes a post-retirement job on a farm using a scythe…and then there are CMOT’s mysterious snowglobes and what they hatch into.
The book suffers a bit from the threads never getting together, but there are classic comedic moments throughout the novel. I don’t recommend it as a first time novel, the novel works best when you’ve seen Death and you’ve seen Unseen University (the home of the Wizards) before. Without that background, the book probably is less effective.
Recommended, but with the caveat above.