Holiday reading, book 3: Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (Jared Diamond)

A heavy but attractively typeset and bound tome by an author that has really influence my thinking about the world and its history a fair bit. The author is now in his 80s and reflects on 7 countries which he knows well, mainly through having lived in them and learning the language. In this respect, it is very personal and touching since the wisdom and insight proceeding from affectionate observation transmit well.

The introduction frames the study well using the psychology of personal crisis with reference to the effect of the Cocoanut [sic] Grove fire in 1940s Boston on the development of crisis therapy. The author provides a theoretical framework for the historical discussion using the psychology of personal crisis management. Since we have all at some or other point had one, this makes it seductively easy to relate to the subject material.

For me, Finland was a particularly interesting chapter and only in part since I visited the country for the first time in 2019 and have so far been only casually familiar with the history of it. Diamond shares my appreciation for language and in this respect treats the role of the unique and somewhat complicated Finnish tongue very well. I also found his treatment of the United States helpful and interesting and those not familiar with some of the partisanship currently in vogue there, might find this a useful guide. On Japan, Indonesia and Chile, he has been excellent.

If I had two wishes about the book, it might be to have Germany disappear from it. The opposite was, incidentally, my view on the first book that I read on holiday – The Square and the Tower (Niall Ferguson). Diamond treats the socio-historical development of modern Germany well and sympathetically and I think these are all things that people need to know. However, I felt that it did not fit the framework and case studies of the remainder of the book.

My second wish would be to have Israel in it since the country has faced numerous crises (not least of all, at its birth) and I believe that it has adapted culturally and institutionally in unique and interesting ways. I think it would have fit well with the rest of the book.

The book is relatively light but pleasant reading and skipping chapters at will should not be a problem. Thank you, Jared!

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