Short History of Progress

cover Wright, Ronald (2004) A Short History of Progress. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers.

If you don’t have the endurance for reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse, this book is a good Cliff’s Notes on how various societies collapsed (Neanderthals, Mayans, Roman Empire, Easter Island) and compares them to the relatively long-lived civilizations of Egypt and China. It’s shorter and easier to read that Diamond’s book but has all the same warnings:
·     Humans are so smart and adaptable that we repeatedly run into ‘progress traps’ where we fall victim to our own success
·     Even if a society can tell it’s headed in a disastrous direction (like Easter Island), it may not have the wherewithal to stop itself from self-destructing.
·     Over consumption of natural resources and destruction of its productivity (eg soils) is a recipe for calamity
·     The last phases of a society aren’t pretty.
Books like this are an inoculation against our proclivity to think that things won’t really change that much, that certainly things can’t be as bad as some people say, that of course our leaders will prevent catastrophe, so we can just go back to our lives as before and sleep tight in this collective delusion.

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