Jared Diamond

We talk to the author of Guns, Germs and Steel about his new book on nations in crisis. Jared Diamond argues that personal crises are a good way of thinking about national ones. He tells us about one of his own personal crises and we see whether the lessons really apply to politics. Plus we discuss what's gone wrong with political leadership in the US and we explore what it would take to tackle the global environmental crisis.


Talking Points:


The premise of Jared’s new book is that the outcome predictors for personal crises can also be applied to national crises.

  • How much does timing matter? Are early life crises different from late life crises?
  • National crises, like personal crises, might begin with a sudden shock or unfold slowly.


Individuals are biased: that can make thinking about the arc of a life hard. But collective action problems do not necessarily map onto personal crises.

  • A key example is leadership: it matters for nations, but not individuals.
  • In a globalized world, we don’t have the luxury of an isolated collapse.


What happens when the system that needs change also has to affect that change?

  • It’s impossible to get away from politics.
  • Jared thinks that this is where leadership comes in. Leaders make a difference under some (but not all) circumstances.
  • Democratic politics has a tendency to defer difficult decisions. But the world does have a track record of dealing with really tough problems.


Mentioned in this Episode:


Further Learning:


And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking


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