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The Collapse of Complex Societies (New…
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The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology) (edizione 1990)

di Joseph A. Tainter (Autore)

UtentiRecensioniPopolaritàMedia votiCitazioni
510637,309 (4.04)1
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 2000 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.… (altro)
Utente:jason.stark
Titolo:The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology)
Autori:Joseph A. Tainter (Autore)
Info:Cambridge University Press (1990), Edition: Reprint, 264 pages
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The Collapse of Complex Societies di Joseph A. Tainter

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This is a tough book to summarize, both because it's so dense and well-sourced it reminds me of grad school, and because it tackles a bunch of big, abstract questions, like what makes societies fail. What does it mean for societies to fail? Here Tainter analyzes many of the ways that groups of people can completely fail to maintain the complicated but fragile webs of interaction that separate us from animals (trade, governance, food production, resource extraction), with examples from the Mayans, Romans, Hittites, Babylonians, and many more. His basic thesis is that human societies are really problem-solving organizations (e.g. the wheel reduces travel time, agriculture reduces vulnerability to famine, steam power increases mechanical capability, sewer systems reduce plagues), and civilization is nothing more than overlapping layers of complex problem-solving networks, skills, and technologies. At low complexity, adding more layers of doers, thinkers, and paper-shufflers makes society more productive and everyone better off, but each additional layer takes energy, and eventually you run into the law of diminishing marginal returns, meaning that after a certain point society becomes paralyzed under the weight of its own corporate and governmental bureaucracies and can no longer adapt to changing conditions like resource shortage, environmental change, economic shifts, or external threats. The implications for modern society are many and thought-provoking. I really can't do this book justice in terms of its scope and analysis, but if you liked Jared Diamond's works (Collapse cites this a bunch), check this out pronto. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
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 people's work, for example). It felt a bit like reading someone's PhD submission, to be honest.

Having said that, it was very interesting to see the intersection of archaeology with economics that Tainter presents in this work and I particularly enjoyed the last chapter where he looks at the implications of his findings for the complex societies we inhabit today.However much we like to think of ourselves as something special in world history, in fact industrial societies are subject to the same principles that caused earlier societies to collapse. Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. Another aspect I appreciated was the way Tainter takes earlier writers to task for assuming that civilisations are automatically A Good Thing and for coming up with completely unjustifiable reasons for their decay.

Tainter urges us to identify another source of energy to avoid the inevitable problems that will be associated with the exhaustion of fossil fuels and inexorable growth of the human population. ( )
  AJBraithwaite | Aug 14, 2017 |
Very good, but not as good as Guns, Germs, Steel ( )
  PaulRx04 | Apr 15, 2016 |
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 Canyon, and Chou China other major collapses. The author summarizes the major theories about collapse, then proposes that declining marginal returns as a major cause. The cost of maintaining a military establishment, large and complex bureaucracies and systems of internal control come to exceed the benefits.
  ritaer | Dec 24, 2014 |
"Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global." Tainter, with all the lessons of history to back him up, was cynical about complex societies having the capability to decelerate intentionally and live within their means once diminishing returns set in on energy sources and other resources. It's hard to quarrel with him about that, looking around us now. And he also saw that, as of the 20th century, all industrialized societies had arrived at a level of parity and interdependence that would make it impossible for any of them to collapse in isolation. So from here on in, if we're going to go down, we're all going down together. The most revelatory thing about this work for me was the realization that collapse, decline, or overthrow are really the norm, not the exception, in the history of complex, hierarchical human societies. But of course when you think of it, it's obvious, since not one single civilization has endured the whole ten thousand years since civilizations began. And Tainter takes pains to show that the same behaviors that can cause collapse are all at work in contemporary industrialized societies, destroying exceptionalism. It's a somewhat mechanistic approach, but these are systems, after all, not individuals or social groups. He removes all the unscientific nostalgia about "decadence" that other historians have succumbed to, and just synthesizes the facts to derive the overarching pattern. Probably what makes this a masterwork. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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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 2000 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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