Summary of Upheaval

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Upheaval book summary

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  • Eye Opening
  • Background
  • Engaging


In 1942, a fire broke out in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub, taking the lives of 492 people. While treating the psychological wounds of the loved ones left behind, therapists discovered a handful of characteristics that often shaped patient outcomes. Thus was born crisis therapy. Inspired by discussions with his clinical psychologist wife, professor Jared Diamond’s Upheaval applies the framework of crisis therapy to critical events across the globe and analyzes how the world might perform in future crises. The result is a fascinating, alarming and sometimes hopeful interdisciplinary read.

About the Author

Jared Diamond  geographer, historian, ornithologist and anthropologist – is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include The World until Yesterday and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. 


Much like individuals, nations must acknowledge when they are in crisis before they can move toward solutions.

Denial of a state of crisis prevents progress, and if nations focus primarily on crisis-causing forces beyond their control, they’ll wallow in self-pity and inaction. Rather than becoming mired in a victim mentality, countries should recognize areas of responsibility and opportunities for change, and then take action.

Germany’s response to World War I illustrates the devastating consequences of a national victim mentality. The average German citizen saw the country as a scapegoat in the years following that war. This perspective made Germans vulnerable to Adolf Hitler’s postwar rhetoric. Germany’s national response following World War II indicated a stark course reversal. Although the German people suffered greatly during the Second World War, they accepted responsibility for their actions and demonstrated the country’s capacity for learning from past mistakes.

​​​​After accepting responsibility, a country must identify which parts of its precrisis system are...

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