Chronicles of Change: Collapse, Resilience, and Humanity's Path Forward

Last updated: 2023-08-27

A reading list of books that discuss the collapse of societies, as well as insights into how societies adapt, transform, or reinvent themselves in the face of challenges. Sorted alphabetically by title. Publication year is bolded for ease of identification.

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No copyright. Published under Public Domain CC0, all copyright rights waived, no warranties, no liability, no endorsement.

Related: Jerry’s Brain on Societal Collapse

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline (2014) Examines the end of the Bronze Age and the factors leading to the collapse of the societies of this era.

After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies by Glenn M. Schwartz and John J. Nichols, eds. (1906) From the Euphrates Valley to the southern Peruvian Andes, early complex societies have risen and fallen, but in some cases they have also been reborn. Prior archaeological investigation of these societies has focused primarily on emergence and collapse. This is the first book-length work to examine the question of how and why early complex urban societies have reappeared after periods of decentralization and collapse.

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson (eds.) (2020) A stirring collection of essays, poems, and letters that offer a potent blend of personal narratives, scientific insights, and calls to action. This anthology amplifies the voices of women at the forefront of the climate movement, shedding light on both the urgency of the crisis and the myriad solutions within our grasp. These diverse perspectives paint a vivid picture of hope, resilience, and collective action, urging readers to engage deeply with the planet's future and our responsibility to safeguard it.

Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future by Patty Krawec (2022) We find our way forward by going back. The invented history of the Western world is crumbling fast, Anishinaabe writer Patty Krawec says, but we can still honor the bonds between us. Settlers dominated and divided, but Indigenous peoples won't just send them all "home." Weaving her own story with the story of her ancestors and with the broader themes of creation, replacement, and disappearance, Krawec helps readers see settler colonialism through the eyes of an Indigenous writer. Settler colonialism tried to force us into one particular way of living, but the old ways of kinship can help us imagine a different future. Krawec asks, What would it look like to remember that we are all related? How might we become better relatives to the land, to one another, and to Indigenous movements for solidarity? Braiding together historical, scientific, and cultural analysis, Indigenous ways of knowing, and the vivid threads of communal memory, Krawec crafts a stunning, forceful call to "unforget" our history. This remarkable sojourn through Native and settler history, myth, identity, and spirituality helps us retrace our steps and pick up what was lost along the chances to honor rather than violate treaties, to see the land as a relative rather than a resource, and to unravel the history we have been taught.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013) As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

Breaking Together: A Freedom Loving Response to Collapse by Jem Bendell (2023) Amazing. The collapse of modern societies has begun. That is the conclusion of two years of research by the interdisciplinary team. Reclaiming our freedoms is essential to soften the fall & regenerate the natural world. Escaping the efforts of panicking elites, we can advance an eco-libertarian agenda for both politics & practical action in a broken world. Free PDF:

The Business of Building a Better World: The Leadership Revolution that is Changing Everything by David Cooperrider and Audrey Selain (2021) Twenty-nine leading scholars and executives provide a visionary look at the future of business, propelling past damaging industrial-age values to uncover the key ingredients of humanistic, ecologically sustainable, and intergenerational prosperity.

The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism by Clara E. Mattei (2022) Mattei traces modern austerity to its origins in interwar Britain and Italy, revealing how the threat of working-class power in the years after World War I animated a set of top-down economic policies that elevated owners, smothered workers, and imposed a rigid economic hierarchy across their societies. Where these policies “succeeded,” relatively speaking, was in their enrichment of certain parties, including employers and foreign-trade interests, who accumulated power and capital at the expense of labor. Here, Mattei argues, is where the true value of austerity can be its insulation of entrenched privilege and its elimination of all alternatives to capitalism.

The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions by Greta Thunberg, ed. (2022) In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts - geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders - to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. This is one of our biggest challenges, she shows, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And if a schoolchild's strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried?

Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia by Antonina W. Bouis (2007) Focusing on the Soviet Union, this book provides a historical perspective on the factors that led to the collapse of one of the 20th century's superpowers.

The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter (1988) Analysis of societal collapses, suggesting that increasing complexity and its costs contribute to decline.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (2005) A study of various historical societies, examining why some endure while others decline.

Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism by Jack D. Forbes (1978) Was one of the founding texts of the anti-civilization movement. His history of terrorism, genocide, and ecocide told from a Native American point of view has inspired America’s most influential activists for decades.

Dancing at the Edge: Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century by Maureen O'Hara and Graham Leicester (2012) This book explores the impending crises that modern societies face, arguing that our traditional methods of organization and leadership are inadequate for the complex challenges of the modern world.

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs (2004) Pinpoints five pillars of our culture that are in serious decay: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation and government; and the self-regulation of the learned professions.

The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey (2017) Investigates the collapse of the classical world and the role of early Christians in the decline of ancient traditions.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow (2021) A groundbreaking exploration of human history that challenges established narratives about the development and evolution of societies.

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of The People’s Economy by Stephanie Kelton (2020) Stephanie Kelton's brilliant exploration of modern monetary theory (MMT) dramatically changes our understanding of how we can best deal with crucial issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs, expanding health care coverage, climate change, and building resilient infrastructure. Any ambitious proposal, however, inevitably runs into the buzzsaw of how to find the money to pay for it, rooted in myths about deficits that are hobbling us as a country.

The Devil’s Element: Phosphorous and a World Out of Balance by Don Egan (2023) Phosphorus has played a critical role in some of the most lethal substances on earth: firebombs, rat poison, nerve gas. But it’s also the key component of one of the most vital: fertilizer, which has sustained life for billions of people. In this major work of explanatory science and environmental journalism, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan investigates the past, present, and future of what has been called “the oil of our time.”

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist by Kate Raworth (2017) Economics is broken. It has failed to predict, let alone prevent, financial crises that have shaken the foundations of our societies. Its outdated theories have permitted a world in which extreme poverty persists while the wealth of the super-rich grows year on year. And its blind spots have led to policies that are degrading the living world on a scale that threatens all of our futures.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken (2017) Explores the top 100 ways to cool the planet - number one is probably not what you think it is.

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen (2017) Exploration of Earth's major extinction events, including societal and environmental factors.

The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival by Sir John Glubb (1978) Lifecycle of empires, from their rise to decline.

Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World by John Vaillant (2023) In May 2016, Fort McMurray, the hub of Canada’s oil industry and America’s biggest foreign supplier, was overrun by wildfire. The multi-billion-dollar disaster melted vehicles, turned entire neighborhoods into firebombs, and drove 88,000 people from their homes in a single afternoon. Through the lens of this apocalyptic conflagration—the wildfire equivalent of Hurricane Katrina—John Vaillant warns that this was not a unique event, but a shocking preview of what we must prepare for in a hotter, more flammable world.

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitv Ghosh (2016) Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration by Jake Bittle (2023) From half-drowned Louisiana to fire-scorched California, from the dried-up cotton fields of Arizona to the soaked watersheds of inland North Carolina, people are moving. In the last few decades, the federal government has moved tens of thousands of families away from flood zones, and tens of thousands more have moved of their own accord in the aftermath of natural disasters. Insurance and mortgage markets are already shifting to reflect mounting climate risk, pricing people out of risky areas.

The Heat Will Kill You First by Jeff Goodell (2023) Heat is the first order threat that drives all other impacts of the climate crisis. And as the temperature rises, it is revealing fault lines in our governments, our politics, our economy, and our values. The basic science is not Stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow, and the global temperature will stop rising tomorrow. Stop burning fossil fuels in 50 years, and the temperature will keep rising for 50 years, making parts of our planet virtually uninhabitable. It’s up to us. The hotter it gets, the deeper and wider our fault lines will open.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1789) A detailed exploration of the reasons behind the fall of the Roman Empire. Project Gutenberg has a public domain ebook edition:

Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Activism by Vanessa Machado de Oliveria (2021) This book is not easy: it contains no quick-fix plan for a better, brighter tomorrow, and gives no ready-made answers. Instead, Vanessa Machado de Oliveira presents us with a challenge: to grow up, step up, and show up for ourselves, our communities, and the living Earth, and to interrupt the modern behavior patterns that are killing the planet we’re part of.

Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant's Guide by Bill McGuire (2004) Hothouse Earth: An Inhabitant's Guide provides a post-COP26 perspective on the climate emergency, acknowledging that it is now practically impossible to keep this side of the 1.5°C dangerous climate change guardrail. The upshot is that we can no longer dodge the arrival of disastrous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown that will come as a hammer blow to global society and economy.

How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation Of The Industrial World by Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell Jr. (1986) An exploration of the rise of Western societies and their economic foundations.

How Wealth Rules the World: Saving Our Communities and Freedoms from the Dictatorship of Property by Ben G. Price (2019) "How Wealth Rules the World" is a deep dive into the ways that property rights, as they are currently constructed and understood, can undermine the common good and erode democratic principles. It's a call to recognize these challenges and work towards a more equitable balance between individual property rights and the broader rights of communities and the public.

An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen (2022) Jackson and Jensen examine how geographic determinism shaped our past and led to today’s social injustice, consumerist culture, and high-energy/high-technology dystopias.

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell (2014) If our technological society collapsed tomorrow, perhaps from a viral pandemic or catastrophic asteroid impact, what would be the one book you would want to press into the hands of the post apocalyptic survivors? What crucial knowledge would they need to survive in the immediate aftermath and to rebuild civilization as quickly as possible—a guide for rebooting the world.

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late by Thom Hartmann (2004)

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant (1968) Insights into the rise and fall of societies and empires derived from their multi-volume "The Story of Civilization".

Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care by Kelly Hayes, Mariame Kaba (2023) Longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine some of the political lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid, and consider what this confluence of power can teach us about a future that will require mass acts of care, rescue and defense, in the face of both state violence and environmental disaster.

Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day by Kaitlan B. Curtice (2023) In an era in which "resistance" has become tokenized, popular Indigenous author Kaitlin Curtice reclaims it as a basic human calling. Resistance is for every human who longs to see their neighbors' holistic flourishing. We each have a role to play in the world right where we are, and our everyday acts of resistance hold us all together.

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century by James Howard Kunstler (2003) A controversial hit that sparked debate among businessmen, environmentalists, and bloggers, The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler is an eye-opening look at the unprecedented challenges we face in the years ahead, as oil runs out and the global systems built on it are forced to change radically.

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian Fagan (2004) Investigation into how climate shifts have affected the course of civilizations.

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman (1984) A historical look at why societies often pursue policies counter to their self-interest.

Mid-Course Correction Revisited: The Story and Legacy of a Radical Industrialist and his Quest for Authentic Change by Ray C. Anderson, John A. Lanier (2019) A visionary industrialist, motivated by a profound realization about the environmental repercussions of his business practices, embarks on an ambitious journey to reformulate the tenets of industry. Rejecting the wastefulness and shortsightedness of traditional manufacturing, he champions a radical, sustainable approach that fuses profitability with ecological responsibility. His transformative vision, emphasizing closed-loop production, resource efficiency, and a deep respect for nature, challenges the status quo and inspires a new generation of leaders to rethink the true purpose and potential of business.

The Next Apocalypse: The Art and Science of Survival by Chris Begley (2021) In The Next Apocalypse , archaeologist Chris Begley argues that we completely misunderstand how disaster works. Examining past collapses of civilizations, such as the Maya and Rome, he argues that these breakdowns are actually less about cataclysmic destruction than they are about long processes of change. It’s in what happens after the initial uproar that matters. Some people abandon their homes and neighbors; others band together to start anew. As we anticipate our own fate, Begley tells us that it was communities, not lone heroes, who survived past apocalypses—and who will survive the next.

Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, Eds. (2023) Not Too Late is the book for anyone who is despondent, defeatist, or unsure about climate change and seeking answers. As the contributors to this volume make clear, the future will be decided by whether we act in the present--and we must act to counter institutional inertia, fossil fuel interests, and political obduracy.

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock (2019) In his final book, Lovelock offers a look at a world with non-organic intelligence sharing the planet with humans and offers that we will share the same goal - keep Gaia cool lest all life should perish.

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis by Amitav Ghosh (2021) An intriguing look at the history of nutmeg beginning with the Dutch East India Company’s genocide against the Bandas Islanders, who had been growing and trading nutmeg across the Indian Ocean for millennia and how the worldview of the corporation, in which the Earth is considered inert and useless unless humans are exploiting is has played out over the past ±400 yrs.

Our Only World by Wendell Berry (2015) In this new collection of eleven essays, Berry confronts head-on the necessity of clear thinking and direct action. Never one to ignore the present challenge, he understands that only clearly stated questions support the understanding their answers require. For more than fifty years we’ve had no better spokesman and no more eloquent advocate for the planet, for our families, and for the future of our children and ourselves.

Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination by David Graeber (2009) Today's capitalist systems appear to be coming apart - but what is the alternative? In a generation or so, capitalism may no longer exist as it's impossible to maintain perpetual growth on a finite planet. David Graeber explores political strategy, global trade, violence, alienation and creativity looking for a new common sense.

The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World by Ruchir Sharma (2016) Insight into the economic forces that shape the fate of nations in the modern era.

Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta (2020) Tyson Yunkaporta is an academic, artist, and member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, Australia. In this work, Yunkaporta invites readers to see the world through the lens of indigenous wisdom, incorporating vibrant storytelling and drawing on Indigenous Australian cultural practices. Using the metaphor of "sand talk," he refers to the traditional practice of drawing images on the ground as a method of communication, knowledge transmission, and complex problem-solving. Yunkaporta skillfully weaves together personal anecdotes, ancient stories, and keen insights into a narrative that challenges Western thinking and presents alternative, holistic ways of understanding the world and our place in it. The book encourages readers to engage with alternative forms of knowledge, promoting sustainability, interconnectedness, and balance, and offers a powerful critique of the shortcomings of contemporary global society. Through "Sand Talk," Yunkaporta advocates for a renewed and respectful engagement with indigenous wisdom as a means to navigate the complex issues facing our world.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz (2013) Looks at the various cataclysms that Earth has faced in the past and offers insights on how humans can prepare for future disasters.

The Seven Circles: Indigenous Teachings for Living Well by Chelsey Luger & Thosh Collins (2022) In this revolutionary self-help guide, two beloved Native American wellness activists offer wisdom for achieving spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing rooted in Indigenous ancestral knowledge.

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) Enlightenment-era work on societal cohesion and potential for decay.

A Study of History, Abridgement of Vols 1-6 by Arnold Joseph Toynbee, David Churchill Somervell, ed. (1947) D.C. Somervell's abridgement, in two volumes, of Arnold Toynbee’s study of civilization. Also see Vols 7-10.

A Study of History, Abridgement of Vols 7-10 by Arnold Joseph Toynbee, David Churchill Somervell, ed. (1957) D.C. Somervell's abridgement, in two volumes, of Arnold Toynbee’s study of civilization. Also see Vols 1-6.

The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction by Rebecca D. Costa (2010) Discusses the cognitive limitations that have led to past societal collapses and how to address them for future survival.

Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge by Erica Gies (2022) This book will broaden your knowledge of how water interacts with land to create a living planet. Amazing research on how ancient peoples managed water in barren landscapes to be able to produce food as well as sad tales of how the devastation of beaver populations has led to so many of the problems we are faced with today.

We Are the Middle of Forever: Indigenous Voices from Turtle Island on the Changing Earth by Dahr Jamil and Stan Rushwort (2022) Enlightening collection of essays by Indigenous authors.

Wetiko: Healing the Mind Virus That Plagues Our World by Paul Levy (2021) In its Native American meaning, wetiko is an evil cannibalistic spirit that can take over people’s minds, leading to selfishness, insatiable greed, and consumption as an end in itself, destructively turning our intrinsic creative genius against our own humanity. Revealing the presence of wetiko in our modern world behind every form of destruction our species is carrying out, both individual and collective, Paul Levy shows how this mind-virus is so embedded in our psyches that it is almost undetectable--and it is our blindness to it that gives wetiko its power.

Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley (2017) A leadership-oriented look at facing societal challenges in a chaotic world.

Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by Stewart Brand (2009) Whole Earth Discipline shatters a number of myths and presents counterintuitive observations on why cities are actually greener than the countryside, how nuclear power is the future of energy, and why genetic engineering is the key to crop and land management. With a combination of scientific rigor and passionate advocacy, Brand shows us exactly where the sources of our dilemmas lie and offer a bold and inventive set of policies and solutions for creating a more sustainable society.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann (2018) In forty years, Earth's population will reach ten billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups--Wizards and Prophets, as Charles Mann calls them in this balanced, authoritative, non-polemical new book. The Prophets, he explains, follow William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give, our prosperity will lead us to ruin. Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose! The Wizards are the heirs of Norman Borlaug, whose research, in effect, wrangled the world in service to our species to produce modern high-yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. Innovate! was Borlaug's cry. Only in that way can everyone win! Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces--food, water, energy, climate change--grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author's insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded Earth.

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No copyright. Published under Public Domain CC0, all copyright rights waived, no warranties, no liability, no endorsement.