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.


How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change

Allen Lane, £25

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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".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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