Jared Diamond: A Question of Blame When Societies Fall

Historians in the News

As I pulled out of Tucson listening to an audiobook of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” the first of a procession of blue-and-yellow billboards pointed the way to Arizona’s strangest roadside attraction, “The Thing?”

The come-ons were slicker and brighter than those I remembered from childhood trips out West. But the destination was the same: a curio store and gas station just off the highway at a remote whistle stop called Dragoon, Ariz.

Dragoon is also home to an archaeological research center, the Amerind Foundation, where a group of archaeologists, cultural anthropologists and historians converged in the fall for a seminar, “Choices and Fates of Human Societies.”

What the scientists held in common was a suspicion that in writing his two best-selling sagas of civilization — the other is “Guns, Germs and Steel” — Dr. Diamond washed over the details that make cultures unique to assemble a grand unified theory of history.

“A big-picture man,” one participant called him. For anthropologists, who spend their lives reveling in minutiae — the specifics and contradictions of human culture — the words are not necessarily a compliment.

“Everybody knows that the beauty of Diamond is that it’s simple,” said Patricia A. McAnany, an archaeologist at Boston University who organized the meeting with her colleague Norman Yoffee of the University of Michigan. “It’s accessible intellectually without having to really turn the wattage up too much.”...

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Randll Reese Besch - 1/2/2008

The larger the picture the simpler the pallet for the eye,and brain,would be confused by the tremendous amount of data,otherwize. Diamond has done this and is good at what he does. But other books are needed to be read to study other concomintant data glossed over in the 'big picture' when a narrower,finer lens is needed to illuminate other factors. Both work for what they offer the reader.