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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in CrisisUpheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, after the introduction, I had a strange, trepidatious feeling that I was going to be reading a psychologically-based analysis of a handful of different countries and how they handled multiple historical crises.

In one way, this might be fine if all we just wanted lite anecdotes, but this particular book is simultaneously more and less than that. Less psychological, more analogical. And more in that it is surprisingly broad-based, detailed, and historically accurate.

Diamond chose seven countries to highlight mostly because he lived in each and spoke most of their languages, which I can't fault him for, because it gives some great immediacy.

I loved the one about Finland nearly as much as I loved the one about Chile. Finland's struggle and clear-eyed resolution with both Germany's invasion and Russia's involvement were all kinds of heroic, scary, and tragic. Chile's challenges (tragedies) with Allende and Pinochet's history is fairly better known in some circles. Diamond focused on both the good and the obviously evil. Less emphasis is put on the Chicago Boys' influence. More on the torture and the willingness to keep Pinochet around despite his more nasty habits, while taking into account some of the obviously positive accounts of the country's growth during that time.

I also loved the one about Indonesia even if I was horrified to learn so much about the mass-killings. On both occasions. The corruption was not as bad as the .5 million to 2 million dead, of course, but hell, both are bad in their ways.

The others about Germany post-war and Austrailia post-British Empire were good and interesting as well, but I think I was a bit more interested in the early Japanese post-Shogunate and post-WWII historical periods.

The final analysis? Diamond goes into some pretty realistic breakdowns of how each country faced its challenges, how resilient each is in the face of tragedy or danger, and how it responds when it is in the wrong. In other words, like spoiled children, embarrassed, or whether they take full responsibility for their actions.

This book is not a full-service political discussion and it ignores quite a few factors but far less than I would have assumed. All in all, I was very happy with the results... even after having read a ton of other history books. :)

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