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 give my opinions, both positive and negative.
First, Diamond discusses his crisis framework at the beginning of the book. Using the crisis framework, he compares the issues and resolutions from the countries he studied.
Diamond formats his book into three parts: individuals, Nations: Crises that unfold, and 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 the personal crisis with how nations heal from their difficulties.
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.
What I liked
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 the decisions that Finnish officers needed 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 more massive 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” would indicate in favor of Pinochet continuing to govern, and a “no” would make him step down. Chile voted “no,” and Pinochet stepped down under resistance.
Diamond had a lot to say about these two chapters. I felt like these two were well-developed, along with the ones 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 that race relations should be placed towards the top instead of in the “other” issues category like he has listed. 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.
What I didn’t like
This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s long. It’s 512 pages long, and it’s very dense. Although it has a lot of great information, it’s a better reference book than a leisurely read. I read his book Guns, Germs, and Steel in college, and it reads a lot like that one. It is a scholarly read if you’re ready for it.
I listened to the audiobook. The narration was dry. If I didn’t previously enjoy the material, I would have returned the book immediately. But, the information was intriguing, which made me continue listening. Do yourself a favor and get the hard copy if you’re interested in this book. The narration on Audible was very formal. It wasn’t my style, but I could understand why the narration was dry because of the seriousness of the book.
Although there were a lot of high points to the book, Diamond references his vast network of friends in his book as substantial evidence. He does this with all of his books as well, so there’s no surprise. Comparisons based on the opinions of his friends could be valuable. However, when taken as a general truth, as Diamond often does, his evidence becomes suspect. So, I don’t suggest using Diamond’s book as a reference for an essay. But it is intriguing material to learn more about different countries.
His crisis framework was extensive. Hence, I recommend getting the hardcover book instead of the audiobook. I forgot his framework soon after passing that part in the book. It’s a dense read, so be prepared.
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 that you can often reference if you’re doing university studies. Diamond does a great comparison study of these countries, and his research shines through in this wonderfully-written book.
Overall, I give this book a solid 7/10. The content is excellent! But not everyone is going to enjoy it as I did. However, I think all leaders should understand history from a comparative point of view, 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!