Saturday, January 28, 2006

Recommended Reading

A book reminded me of some other books I've read, all of which help me better understand the world we all live in.

I started reading
Collapse by Jared Diamond, who previously authored the excellent Guns, Germs and Steel. In his latest book, Diamond advances a theory of why some societies stand the test of time, while others disappear, sometimes rapidly. I am about halfway through the book and so far it has been quite interesting. Diamond has analyzed Easter Island, the Mayan and the Viking civilizations so far, along with goings on in present day Montana. I have a little way to go before I'm done, but so far it is a recommended read.
Studying the success or failure of civilizations is a pursuit that has concerned mankind; we always look back to the societies of the past, if for no other reason than to better understand ourselves.
Which is why Diamond's theories led me to think of ideas advanced in some other books I've read. Diamond's theory identifies many variables that inevitably determine whether or not a civilization stands the test of time. But I feel Diamond does not address the complex relationships between all of the variables he uses in gauging why a society succeeds or fails. A scientific discipline that places values on the complex interactions between variables, and the emergent effects they produce, is system theory. While Diamond touches slightly on the interrelationship between variables he's studying (ie climate change and environmental degradation in the case of polynesian islanders), he does not take the next step to look at how the rest of the variables within the society are connected as well.
So read the book, and when you want to look at how all the various aspects of a society interact and connect, pick up a book on system theory. I would strongly recommend General System Theory, by Ludwig Van Bartalannfy as a start. This book is out of print and a little tough to come by. And yes, it is a tad on the dry side. Another short book to introduce you to system theory is The Logic of Failure
by Dietrich Dorner. This is a really interesting book (hence an easier read), but Bartalannfy's book is truly the bible of systems theory, so get that one too!
There you have it, what I'm reading, and what I am led to think about while I read. I hope you find the time to pick these books up at some point; the two theories advanced definitely provide some tools to examine the world we live in today.

1 comment:

JuliaMazal said...

Guess I missed a few posts. I've never heard of "system failure" before and it sounds really interesting. I've added those to my to-be-read list.