Were you ever so involved in a couple of books to the point that your own reality seemed dull and uninspiring? That you could not wait to lay back into those pages whenever you had the chance? In a place like that now, I must recommend my current obsession.
Worried about climate change and the fact that most are not paying any attention to it, I was alerted to a great book by an NPR interview with Jerad Diamond, a professor of geography. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Guns. Germs, and Steel”, but I’m reading now his work “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. He tackles and explains huge climate and societal problems in common language. His title says it all. Societies may be new to an area via colonization, and the imported old ways do not work in the new lands. Religions may make a solution impossible for a certain society. Skills in dealing with the land and climate may not be known by colonizing peoples. Probably the most dramatic example in his book is the old society on the Easter Islands, and their sculptural solution to a problem that needed addressing in a way other than making art. But could they choose another path with the techniques and knowledge they had?
Diamond even looks at our American Montana and problems with water there. It makes one wonder why on earth folks wanted an area without much rainfall to be farms. But it happened, and we (they) have to deal with it. By far my favorite discussion in the book is about Medieval Greenland and the Norse. They lived as colonists for some 450 years, and then were gone. The experiment was unsuccessful. What interests me is what the people thought when realizing that their grandfathers had horses they could feed, that there was plenty of meat for the winter, and vast numbers of seals in the fiords.
Thought of a book, half-read, by Jane Smiley, dated 1988. Read part of it last summer and something from Diamond’s narrative made me get that book out again. She has a huge interest in the Middle Ages and the Norse, and this monumental and difficult book was years in the writing.
Illustrations (photos) from the Diamond book picture the farms on which the drama occurs in the Smiley book. Going back between the two, the stories are confirmed. They represent two ways to tell the same story: the reporter’s way and the dramatist’s way.
Of course Smiley’s way is the more difficult. The following review attends that issue far better than I am able.
Know this sounds strange, but I could not find a date of publication on my paperback copy of Diamond’s book. And in reading “The Greenlanders”, I was sure that Smiley’s hat would be tipped to Diamond for his research. But “Collapse” was written in 2005! Amazing interface.