Book Review: Upheaval by Jared Diamond

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond is an excellent summary of how nations deal with a national crisis. Diamond compares seven countries and how each handles its own issues. The countries he studied are Finland, Japan, Germany, Indonesia, Australia, Chile, and the United States.

First, I’ll give a brief outline of the book. Then, I’ll provide some key takeaways.


Photo by Engin Akyurt


First, Diamond discusses his crisis framework. Using the crisis framework, he compares the issues and resolutions from the countries he studied.

Diamond formats his book into three parts:


-Nations: Crises that unfold

-Nations and the World: Crisis Underway

The prologue about Coconut Grove sets a foundation for the book as it helps the reader understand how an individual deals with pressure at the moment. For clarity, Coconut Grove was a Boston, Massachusetts nightclub known for the second deadliest building fire in U.S. history. A total of 492 people died in that fire.

Diamond goes on to explain how survivors dealt with the tragedy. Then, he compares personal crisis with how nations heal from their crises.

The first part about individuals deals with the way individuals handle problems. Diamond spends little time on this section as he shapes the book for the other two sections. Although he doesn’t spend much time here, he’s thorough in how he explains his findings.

Next, he goes into the crises of nations. Diamond dives into the Winter War in Finland, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, post-WWII reconstruction in Germany, Japan’s aging and traditional Meiji Japanese culture, identity crises for Australia, and Sukarno’s rule in Indonesia. Diamond saves the United States for the final section.

In the final section, Diamond labels the biggest problem facing the United States today. He believes that the breakdown of political compromise is the greatest threat that America faces today. He then identifies three other issues as elections, inequality, and immobility.


Key Takeaways

My favorite sections were about Finland and Chile. The Winter War was something I have never studied before, and Diamond made that one come alive for me.

He talked at length about Finnish officers’ decisions to make to slow the Soviet push into Finland. The crisis that Finland faced with the Winter War was a puzzling chapter because Finland was successful against a bigger Soviet Union army. It made me think about how nations can face insurmountable odds and still be successful.

The chapter on Chile was especially intriguing. Augusto Pinochet was a military dictator of Chile. Initially, he wasn’t supposed to be in charge for long. However, he reigned for 17 years between 1973 and 1990 when he was ousted by a “yes” or “no” vote.

A “yes” vote indicates Pinochet’s continued governance, and a “no” would make him step down. Chile voted “no,” and Pinochet stepped down under protest.

Diamond had a lot to say about these two chapters. I felt like these two were well-developed, along with the issues about the United States.

I felt like there were some significant parts of each chapter that he highlighted throughout the book. He also applied each section to the crisis framework he outlined at the beginning of the book.

Finally, I thought his analysis of the crisis in America was correct. The one correction (in light of recent events) I would make is to emphasize combating racism.

Politics in the United States has turned away from compromise and welcomed cynicism and finger-pointing, to which Diamond reiterates the need for political understanding and togetherness in politics. I felt like that was a logical assessment of the problem, even if he doesn’t have the whole solution.

Buy Upheaval


Photo by Rahul Shah


If you’re a history buff, then this is a great read! I enjoyed it, but I know that not everyone will. Upheaval is one of those books you can thumb through to get general information about a country’s crisis.

The content of the book is good. But not everyone is going to enjoy it as I did. However, I think all leaders should understand history from a comparative perspective, like what Diamond demonstrated. You can buy Upheaval through this link.

Have you read Upheaval? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Photo Credit

Featured Image: Unknown author is licensed under CC BY-NC

1: Engin Akyurt


3: Rahul Shah



6 thoughts on “Book Review: Upheaval by Jared Diamond”

  1. This is a very interesting book to be reviewing right now in the current world situation we find ourselves. There is certainly no shortage of crises right now. Perhaps this book can help us to understand how to better handle them. I think I’m with you. Getting the hardcover would be a better option as it would allow you to study it like a textbook, going back to reference earlier chapters. Thanks for the recommendation! 

    1. Steve,

      I appreciate your perspective. Crisis has been part of human history, and it won’t stop now. Thank you for your comment!


  2. Thanks for sharing the great content! Can tell it’s a interesting book but a bit too long pages for me. But Thanks again for let me know more and understand what is the book Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

  3. I have not read Upheaval but you present a very thorough book review. I’m not a history buff but love to keep up with current events. Diamond’s perspective on how several nations have handled crisis is interesting. You’re right – hardcover book rather than an audio book – would be my preference too. With all the crisis we are experiencing now, this book may be a welcome read for others. Thanks for sharing!

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