Books: When Things Fall Apart

The author of Guns, Germs, and Steel asks, Why do some civilizations die out while others survive?

There are no trees more than 10 ft. tall on Easter Island. That's not its most famous mystery--there's the little matter of those giant brooding statues--but it is kind of weird. Easter Island is less forested than any other island in Polynesia. What happened to the trees? And what, for that matter, caused the islanders themselves to die off almost completely?

Most people would leave questions like those as rhetorical and quietly tiptoe away, but Jared Diamond asks and relentlessly answers them in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking; 575 pages). Diamond, a professor of geography (surely an...

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