How Worlds Collapse : What History, Systems, and Complexity Can Teach Us About Our Modern World and Fragile Future book cover
1st Edition

How Worlds Collapse
What History, Systems, and Complexity Can Teach Us About Our Modern World and Fragile Future

  • Available for pre-order on March 3, 2023. Item will ship after March 24, 2023
ISBN 9781032363219
March 24, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
425 Pages 43 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

As our society confronts climate change, authoritarianism, and epidemics, what can examples from the past tell us about our present and future? How Worlds Collapse offers case studies of societies that either collapsed or overcame cataclysmic adversity. The authors of this volume find commonalities between past civilizations and our current society, tracing patterns, strategies, and early warning signs that can inform decision making today. While today’s complex world presents unique challenges, many mechanisms, dynamics, and fundamental challenges to the foundations of civilization have been seen throughout history – highlighting essential lessons for the future.

Table of Contents



Section 1: Theory and Insights of Historical Collapse

1. Globalization and Fragility: A Systems Approach to Collapse
Miguel A. Centeno, Peter W. Callahan, Paul Larcey, Thayer Patterson

2. How Scholars Explain Collapse
Joseph A. Tainter

3. Diminishing Returns on Extraction: How Inequality and Hierarchy Create Fragility
Luke Kemp

4. Collapse, Recovery, and Existential Risk
Haydn Belfield

Section 2: Historical and Archaeological Investigations of Collapse

5. "Mind the Gap": The 1177 BC Late Bronze Age Collapse and Some Preliminary Thoughts on Its Immediate Aftermath
Eric H. Cline

6. The End of "Peak Empire": The Collapse of the Roman, Han and Jin Empires
Walter Scheidel

7. Collapse and Non-Collapse: The Case of Byzantium ca 650-800 CE
John Haldon

8. Fluctuat nec mergitur: Seven Centuries of Pueblo Crisis and Resilience
Timothy A. Kohler, R. Kyle Bocinsky, Darcy Bird

9. Episodes of the Feathered Serpent: Aztec Imperialism and Collapse
Deborah L. Nichols, Ryan H. Collins

10. The Black Death: Collapse, Resilience, Transformation
Samuel Cohn

11. Applying Systems Thinking to Understand Historical Civilizational Response to Exogenous Threats: The Case of Kievan Rus’ and Muscovy Under the Mongols
Miriam Pollock, Benjamin D. Trump, Igor Linkov

12. Resilience of the Simple? Lessons from the Blockade of Leningrad
Jeffrey K. Hass

Section 3: Systemic Collapse Insights from Ecology, Climate, and the Environment

13. Climate Change and Tipping Points in Historical Collapse
Tim Lenton

14. Conservation of Fragility and the Collapse of Social Orders
John M. Anderies, Simon Levin

15. Resilience and Collapse in Bee Societies and Communities
Christina M. Grozinger, Harland M. Patch

Section 4: Future Systemic Collapse and Quantitative Modeling

16. Producing Collapse: Nuclear Weapons as Preparation to End Civilization
Zia Mian, Benoît Pelopidas

17. From Wild West to Mad Max: Transition in Civilizations
Richard Bookstaber

18. Phase Transitions and the Theory of Early Warning Indicators for Critical Transitions
George I. Hagstrom, Simon A. Levin

19. The Lifespan of Civilizations: Do Societies "Age," or Is Collapse Just Bad Luck?
Anders Sandberg

20. Multipath Forecasting: The Aftermath of the 2020 American Crisis
Peter Turchin

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Miguel A. Centeno is Musgrave Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and Vice-Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His recent books include War and Society, Global Capitalism, and States in the Developing World. He is the founder of the Research Community on Global Systemic Risk.

Peter W. Callahan is a graduate of Princeton University who earned his M.S. in Geography and Environmental Studies from the University of New Mexico. He joined the Princeton Global Systemic Risk Strategy project in 2015 His interests include the study of socio-ecological systems, historical systemic risks, sustainable development, and renewable energy policy and technology.

Paul Larcey studied engineering and materials science for his undergraduate & master’s degrees (Universities of Oxford & Cambridge respectively), and received an MBA in Finance (Imperial College Business School). He worked initially in a corporate research environment before moving into global industrial sectors at board and senior levels closely involved in funding strategies for major projects (public and private) primarily in the engineering sector, M&A, Private Equity and risk analysis in challenging environments. He has also worked in strategic management consulting with a focus on technology and sustainability.

Thayer Patterson is the coordinator and a founding member of the PIIRS Global Systemic Risk research community. Subsequent to receiving a Master in Finance from Princeton's Bendheim Center for Finance, his research has focused on the causes and consequences of catastrophic systemic risk.


"The editors deserve our gratitude for having assembled these wide-ranging essays. They offer fascinating perspectives on a topic that could hardly be more important for humanity — but which has received far less systematic attention than it merits. Let's hope this book will raise awareness of these possible catastrophes, and thereby help ensure a safer world." 

Professor Lord Martin Rees