Book in the news: countries in therapy

Book review: Upheaval Jared Diamond’s approach is somewhat at odds with conventional historians as he attempts to draw lessons from countries that have been through trauma.

Upheaval-150

How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change

Allen Lane, £25

Buy on Amazon

Jared Diamond has written several books on what makes nations successful. Originally he was a "geographical determinist" who believed that an "abundance" of food gave inhabitants of ancient Eurasia "the time and energy to invent the guns and steel that they used to conquer much of the rest of the world", says Peter Coy on Bloomberg. However, his latest book downplays geography in favour of therapy. In particular, he "likens nations in trouble to individuals going through a recovery" and tries to draw lessons from case studies of countries that have been through trauma.

Diamond's approach of "drawing direct parallels between personal and national" contrasts with conventional historians, who "tend to emphasise the particularity of circumstance and the intricate unrepeatability of events", says Colin Kidd in The Guardian. Still, he manages to make a convincing case for "the imperatives of taking responsibility (without scapegoating), honest national self-appraisal, a willingness to learn from other nations and a capacity to compromise, sometimes, indeed, to swallow the unpalatable". He also effectively provides some hints as to how those lessons could be usefully applied to contemporary problems, such as climate change.

Upheaval is a "curious, highly personal book", says Andrew Marr in The Sunday Times. While the idea "sounds a little glib", it actually "turns out to work surprisingly well", as the author manages to find "intellectually stimulating and unusual examples that provide much food for thought". In particular, the story of how Finland "managed to find a way to live with Soviet Russia on its border, while maintaining a free-market society" is an "exemplary" story of "political compromise and realism, lack of self-pity and strong national character". Britain "could also learn a lot from the 19th century Japanese in looking outside Japan for inspiration".

Recommended

Theatre review: The Visit
Films

Theatre review: The Visit

Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss classic The Visit, transported to 1950s America, poses the question: how much would you kill for?
28 Feb 2020
Six contrarian books for Christmas
Films

Six contrarian books for Christmas

Merryn Somerset Webb picks six of her favourite contrarian books to help you look clever and perhaps win a few arguments over the Christmas dinner tab…
9 Dec 2019
Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up
Books

Four excellent books to get your teeth into while you remain holed up

Whether you’re going on a staycation (or even an actual holiday) or remaining holed up at home. Merryn Somerset Webb has four perfect books to educate…
6 Jul 2020

Most Popular

The rising dollar is proving bad news for most other assets – will it last?
Investment strategy

The rising dollar is proving bad news for most other assets – will it last?

Precious metals, stocks and pretty much every other asset has taken a tumble as the US dollar strengthens. Dominic Frisby looks at how long this trend…
23 Sep 2020
The electric-car bubble could get an awful lot bigger from here
Renewables

The electric-car bubble could get an awful lot bigger from here

The switch to electric cars is driving a huge investment bubble. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says John Stepek. Fortunes will be made and l…
24 Sep 2020
Why you should stuff your end-of-pandemic portfolio with Chinese stocks
China stockmarkets

Why you should stuff your end-of-pandemic portfolio with Chinese stocks

For an end-of-pandemic portfolio, you need assets that can cope with today’s volatility. And that, says Merryn Somerset Webb, means Chinese stocks.
14 Sep 2020