- Bill Gates recently listed “Upheaval,” the latest nonfiction title from vaunted author Jared Diamond, among his top five book recommendations for the summer.
- A few days earlier, writer Anand Giridharadas panned the book in his review for the New York Times, calling it “sloppy” and “riddled with errors.”
- Giridharadas wrote that the book called into question our decision to revere certain authors – particularly white, male ones – because they have produced respected works in the past.
- But Gates said the book “shows that there’s a path through crisis.”
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Writer Anand Giridharadas isn’t shy about his disdain for “Upheaval,” the latest nonfiction title from vaunted author and UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond.
“If [younger writers] were ever this sloppy, their career would be over before it had even begun,” Giridharadas wrote in his recent New York Times review of the book.
Diamond’s latest title considers the idea that nations might learn something from how humans handle personal crises such as losing a loved one or having one’s children move out. People who successfully navigate a crisis, the book posits, tend to recognise their problems and weed out bad habits that won’t solve them. They’re also willing to ask for help.
That theory is part of why Bill Gates listed “Upheaval” among his top five book picks for the summer.
“I admit that at first I thought it might be a little strange to borrow from a model of a single person’s emotional turmoil to explain the evolution of entire societies,” Gates wrote on his blog, Gates Notes. “But it isn’t strange at all; it’s revealing.”
Diamond’s book, according to Gates, “shows that there’s a path through crisis and that we can choose to take it.”
But Giridharadas argues that the path laid out in “Upheaval” is strewn with inaccuracies. The book misstates the year the UK voted to leave the European Union (otherwise known as “Brexit”) and suggests that Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015, is Singapore’s current prime minister.
At other times, Giridharadas argues, the book puts forward generalizations that have been moulded to fit the author’s framework.
Diamond uses case studies to demonstrate 12 principles that can help countries navigate major challenges. “The stories we learn about each country are often partial and slanted, because only The Framework matters,” Giridharadas wrote. Even Gates admits that the framework can become “slightly tedious,” though he said it’s possible to skim once you’ve grasped Diamond’s methodology.
Gates’ favourite case study is a chapter called “Finland’s War with the Soviet Union,” which explains how Finland was able to maintain its independence during World War II by demonstrating that the Soviet Union could benefit from having the nation as an ally, not an occupied territory.
Giridharadas cites the same case study as an example of Diamond’s sweeping assertions. “At one point during World War II, Diamond says, the people of Finland, facing Soviet bellicosity, ‘were unanimous in refusing to compromise further.’ A whole nation, unanimous!” Giridharadas wrote.
For Giridharadas, the book called into question society’s decision to revere certain authors – particularly white, male ones – because they have produced respected works in the past.
“I began to wonder why we give some people, and only some, the platform, and burden, to theorise about everything,” Giridharadas wrote in the Times.
Gates still seems to have gleaned some valuable lessons from “Upheaval.”
“I love all of Jared’s books,” he wrote on his blog. “I still rank ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel‘ as one of the best things I’ve ever read. Luckily for fans like me, Jared is very prolific and publishes a new book every few years.”
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