The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization


433 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-676-97722-7
DDC 909.83




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Homer-Dixon offers a sequel to Jared Diamond’s 2005 bestseller,
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. There is so much
information in this book that Homer-Dixon must have been well along in
its preparation when Collapse appeared, but the messages of both are
clear. Unless we safeguard the environment, conserve our resources, and
act responsibly, what we cherish may well disappear. It does not hurt to
hear such important messages twice.

We certainly are vulnerable, argues Homer-Dixon. Note the exodus from
New York on 9/11. Recall the great eastern North American blackout of
August 14, 2003. Terrorists with a nuclear weapon could destroy a great
city. The world’s population is growing at such a rate as to threaten
the earth’s resources. Already the cod around Newfoundland, the fish
in the Gulf of California, and the forests of Haiti have vanished, with
serious consequences. Global warming is a reality. The disappearing
snows of Kilimanjaro and the starving polar bears are warnings;
Hurricane Katrina and forest fires in California demonstrate that even
rich countries can feel the impact.

The world is a unit; SARS spread with great rapidity. Health and
sanitation standards in many countries are poor. Thailand’s
devaluation of the baht in 1997 created a chain reaction across Asia.
Upheavals in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—neither of which is
improbable—could have catastrophic effects on the global economy and
global security.

It is easy to procrastinate, says Homer-Dixon. Precautions are costly,
and powerful interests benefit from the status quo. Complacency after
the 1965 blackout allowed that of 2003 to happen. By contrast,
forewarned by the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, corporations
managed to keep damage to a minimum in 2001. Governments must take
action on global warming, and families should maintain a supply of fresh
water, flashlights, and battery-powered radios. The Roman Empire once
seemed mighty and secure, but it disintegrated. The modern world could
suffer a similar fate.


Homer-Dixon, Thomas., “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,