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.
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.
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.
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!
1: Engin Akyurt
3: Rahul Shah