Never ask a Viking for advice

Yes, climatic deterioration probably helped destroy Norse Greenland. But the Vikings also damned themselves. ‘The Inuit survived,’ he points out. ‘The Vikings’ disappearance was not inevitable.’

And hereby hangs our tale. Throughout the 500-plus pages of this densely argued, yet riveting treatise, Diamond, a geographer at University of California in Los Angeles and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, outlines the interrelated ecological reasons and economic causes for the disintegration, and survival, of societies throughout history.

Examples include the Mayans who stripped their land of trees (deforestation figures in just about all collapses, it transpires), triggering widespread soil erosion and starvation, and the Easter Islanders who destroyed their society in a fever of religious statue building and cannibalism. (‘The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth,’ is still a popular island insul

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