Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond – book review

Jared Diamond’s Upheaval analyzes why a nation is how it is now. Of course, culture plays a role in changing the ethos of each new zeitgeist. Still, it is not so much a differentiating element as a distinguishing factor to characterize a national character. Instead, it is a mindset of individuals, including the governing elites in the nation, that determine the success and stagnation of the nation’s progress.

Of all nations’ approaches to and results of political and sociological revolutions, the most successful example is Japan’s Meiji Restoration in the 19th century and democratization in the aftermath of WWII, both of which are one-of-a-kind upheavals yielding to outstanding progress. Japan’s confrontation with the West might have blown their isolated cultural prestige. However, rather than coiling in fear of the changes, Japan sprang back with new attitudes adapted from Europe’s and the U.S.’s technological development and cultural legacy to survive the new zeitgeist as the time’s juggernaut.

On the other hand, the United States today needs change because it is highly polarized by political affiliations, ideological inclinations, and racial stratifications. The U.S. seems to have lurched in the above marsh when it should focus on the constructive, substantial, and realistic aspects of political agenda and social movements. For example, Americans tend more to ideas than facts that collectively affect individual needs, such as universal healthcare, a better educational system, employment opportunities, housing assistance, welfare programs, and workers’ rights. It s because American politicians aim to mobilize an army of people, aka constituents, to win their ideological war for occupying more congressional seats. In fact, American exceptionalism, that America is the best of all other countries in the world, averts the eyes from the lessons from other countries simply because they are beneath.

Diamond is a polymath well versed in science, literature, philosophy, geography, psychology, and sociology. He talks about his family, students, and friends from other countries. He is no stranger to their cultures with the knowledge of the languages and cultural cues, which entitles him to an appellation of “a citizen of the world.” This book reads persuasive and perspicacious, among other books on similar subjects. Maybe I am biased, but if the man whose assessment of nations strikes my chord, then I can’t help it.