Reading and Discussion
Questions for Jared Diamond’s
How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Note: These reading/discussion questions are listed
in order that they will be discussed in class and do not follow the chronology
of the book.
the posted video that goes over the introduction to the book!
does Diamond define collapse?
are Diamond’s five key factors for explaining the collapse of a society?
does Diamond locate himself on the spectrum of environmentalism?
Chapter 1: Under Montana’s Big
Sky, 27-75 (optional)
Diamond’s discussion of modern Montana relevant to his study of the collapse of
Chapter 5: The Maya Collapse,
challenges faced the Maya when it came to water?
- What is karst?
- What is a “seasonal tropical forest”?
difficulties did the Maya face in producing agricultural surplus? Give specific examples.
did the Maya collapse occur and where was it most severe?
causes of the Maya collapse.
Chapter 4: The Ancient Ones:
The Anasazi and Their Neighbors, 136-156
challenges for agriculture did the environment of the Anasazi present?
is dendrochronology and what role does it play in understanding the Anasazi?
geographical advantages did Chaco canyon offer as a place of permanent
is midden analysis and what does it tell us about the Anasazi at Chaco?
were the two main environmental problems for the Anasazi at Chaco?
does the archeology of Chaco suggest about the social hierarchy of Anasazi society?
did the Anasazi stay at Chaco when their resources were already depleted?
the main reasons for the collapse of Chaco and other Anasazi societies?
Chapter 2: Twilight at Easter
Describe the geography of Easter Island and explain
how this geography influenced civilization on the island.
When and how was Easter Island settled?
What is significant about the statues on Easter
Island? What are they called? How were they erected?
What made agriculture and fishing so challenging on
When and how did collapse occur on Easter
Island? Be specific.
In Diamond’s view, why is it hard for many to accept
that collapse on Easter Island happened before European colonization?
Assignment 100 points
on Sunday 23 January
a 2.5-3 page paper (double spaced/12 point font) addressing the question
below. Your paper must make use of at
least six specific examples with page number references from at least three
chapters (the Prologue counts as a chapter).
Jared Diamond’s five-point framework, explain the collapse of two of the
following: Maya civilization in the classic period, the Anasazi, Easter Island. Could these collapses have been prevented, or
did they “just happen”?