Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Any explanation of political collapse carries lessons not just for the study of ancient societies, but for the members of all complex societies in both the present and future. Dr Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than years of explanations.
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Return to Book Page. Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Political disintegration is a persistent feature of world history. The Collapse of Complex Societies, though written by an archaeologist, will therefore strike a chord throughout the social sciences.
Any explanation of societal collapse carries lessons not just for the study of ancient societies, but for the members of all such societies in both the present and future. Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than years of explanations. He then develops a new and far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse among diverse kinds of societies, evaluating his model and clarifying the processes of disintegration by detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan and Chacoan collapses.
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Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. Sort order. Start your review of Collapse of Complex Societies. Feb 03, Mark rated it it was amazing. Ok, done! Tainter's work is an opus. How could it be otherwise with a title like that?
Yet, it lives up to the title: aiming and broadly succeeding to argue the causes for collapse. It's a little ponderous to read, because it is documented and reasoned like a thesis. This is a historical analysis, with applicability to our age that's noted only lightly along the way: it's not a political position paper, though it could be. Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win s Ok, done!
Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win situation. The idea of diminishing returns well explored meaning that more fertilizer, internet, railroads and regulations produce more food per man-hour invested, but only to a point. Eventually the return on investment tapers to nothing, and then further effort would actually COST energy, blood and treasure. I don't think he successfully argues why we can't step back from that precipice, why for instance the diminishing returns aren't their own regulator, moreso because the broad curve of lost benefit implies a smooth hilltop, not a cliff My precipice description makes Tainter's point, but it seems inaccurate to describe the actual dynamics.
Surely there will someday be one road too many, if not already! Another possibility I'm trying to cinch down the last loose knot on his thesis, you see is that the complexity is a house of cards. A famous "cappuccino" speech by Greenspan trumpets the hyper-complicated chain of products that enables something as wonderful and only SEEMINGLY simple as a cappuccino: where'd the ore for the selenium cobalt in the magnets in the electric motor that ground the beans come from?
If our system is interdependent and surely it is for is not the efficiency derived substantially from specialization that interdependence allows? There is no retrenchment possible; removing a keystone will bring it all down, and every stone is a keystone. A final idea I'll offer is that we become addicted.
Not in a bad way either. We are addicted in that we want to support our population: it's not o. But that's what will happen because, as we expand our capability e.
Some of it goes into luxury, but lots goes into people too, and we are thereby committed to the additional technology. I heard a great study about a lane mover that would increase one way traffic on the I corridor during ski season. I believe it! We invent an improvement and then gobble up it's benefit instead of banking it away against lean times. So the change becomes not really an improvement, but instead a permanent commitment to additional infrastructure, additional complexity.
Why then don't I live a life of ease with the US average 10kW at my disposal? The answer is that we use it up. Also I suppose I DO live a life of ease and luxury in comparison to a 19th century Russian peasant with only one actual horse in his stable.
Anyway, Tainter does talk about this obliquely at one point. Re-reading my review a year later, both Tainter's analysis and mine leave me uncomfortable, unsatisfied. Trying to be succinct, I don't think it's about diminishing returns, but about slack and momentum. Consumption of all the slack technology provides leads to an irrevocable commitment to complexity and interdependency. Commitment means you can't retrench to simpler technology in a bad year because the greater efficiency has become the new minimum baseline.
Now you're in danger of actual collapse. One more last thought how many "last thoughts" is one allowed? The farmer buying the fast tractor doesn't see the oil cost in it's impact on fertilizer cost, or food prices in poor countries, or something similar, so he makes what is for him the right Local decision, but Globally, it is the wrong one.
Of course bringing oil into it pulls Jared Diamond to mind. Only soil, Diamond's favorite limited resource, could be more apt. Here's a link to some comparison between this book and Diamond's Collapse.
Hope he's wrong. And later still, the latest foodie trend here in Boulder is to disparage the humble wheat stalk, it's multifarious chromosome threatening our digestion.
What if this graduates from trend to generally accepted fact? What if the ideal response is to regress to einkorn and yields drop by half? Just in case society does collapse, I'll document the fall here, so at least at the end I can say "I told ya so! View all 8 comments. May 16, Dave rated it really liked it. This is a short, dense, book about a difficult subject.
Tainter does a good job with his argument, which I admit even I though I disagree with it in part. His argument boils down to a few key points: 1. Major civilizations tend to experience an early period of rapid growth through the 'low hanging fruit' of available territory, resources, etc. When 2. This growth inevitably leads to specialization, stratification, and complexity which initially serves growth 3.
The civilization plateau's and the This is a short, dense, book about a difficult subject. The civilization plateau's and the structure established to help it grow becomes a part of society. When the 'low hanging fruit' disappears, further expansion be it territorial, trade oriented becomes less and less profitable, and eventually starts to work against the civilization. Finally, the complex structure begins to a positive drain on the civilization as it has to spend more and more to get less and less.
But now we depend on the structure, which has become brittle, and like a house of cards, easy to knock over. Tainter supports his theory well from civilizations across time, and uses very obvious info, like territory, and some other more unusual information, like crop yields, colonial administrations, and so on. No doubt there are many lessons for economists here. But -- while his book is valuable, it has big holes. In his quest for absolute objectivity, he rejects all value-judgment theories of collapse.
If you can't measure it, it's not useful. A civilizations beliefs, or our interpretation of those beliefs are not 'objective' and so have nothing to contribute to the study of collapse. So, after summarizing the work of people like Gibbon, Toynbee, Spengler, and others he essentially dismisses with a wave of his hand. But as C.
Collapse of Complex Societies
A really detailed analysis of the reasons for the collapse of complex societies. For my own purposes, as a general reader, perhaps it is a bit too detailed in places lots of references to other Tainter examines several major cultures that show a rise in complexity and expansion in territory followed by a collapse and decline. Rome is, of course, a primary example, with Mayan culture, Chaco
The Collapse of Complex Societies (review)
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