Upheaval by Jared Diamond is about how countries have responded to crises. He takes countries as analogous to individuals and applies psychological techniques used for personal crises to national crises.
The countries and crises he discussed are:
1. Australia and its pivot away from the UK after WW2.
2. Chile and the events leading to the election of Allende, Pinochet's coup, rule, fall and aftermath. This was the most interesting bit.
3. Finland and how its geographic constraints defined its relationship to the USSR and now Russia.
4. Germany and its social tensions after WW2.
5. Japan's backwardness prior to the Meiji era, its adoption of western technologies and current demographic problems.
6. Indonesia and Suharto's takeover from Sukarno.
7. The US, its geographic advantages and the social and political problems that threaten the country.
For such a wide-ranging book, it felt narrow and shallow, perhaps because I compare it to other books by the same author. It has neither the persuasive coherence of "Guns, Germs & Steel" (one of the best books I have ever read) nor the scientific rigor of "The 3rd Chimpanzee". This is probably because I like books to have a unifying argument or conclusion. I suppose my desire for a neat explanation might be a species of physics envy. Physics envy is a criticism of the increasing tendency of social sciences (especially economics) to introduce mathematics into their curriculums to achieve the elegant simplicity of physics. One definition of mathematics is that it is the recognition and study of patterns. If these patterns are sufficiently understood, they can be used to make predictions. However, when a pattern is recognized in human interactions, it is either hedged about by so many caveats, exceptions and simplifications that prevent its wide applicability; or it is so broad that it can be applied to anything and everything thus being useless for classification. The use of math in psychology has been compared to its use in meteorology where the math is either too broad or too narrow. That may be why the author chose a narrative method rather than a quantitative one in building the framework for his analysis. It is thus possible that the framework is a case of knowing the answer and working backwards to find out what the question is since he did not choose countries randomly but chose those he has visited or lived in. Whatever the case, and in the spirit of psychology, which works despite the uniqueness of each individual, I think his use of the framework to discuss the crises of Chile, Finland and Indonesia raises these issues about the following Nigerian crises.
1. The Ibo problem. This is not a victim blaming situation, but it is a question worth asking. Why is there such resentment about the Ibo? I think if this question can be answered, the Ibos could be Nigeria's salvation. Given the disadvantages that burden them, they are unarguably the most successful tribe in the country. To the extent that financial success is a measure of worth, they are the best people in Nigeria. However, given their visibility in the less savory pursuit of that success, could they also be the worst people in the country? Perhaps the qualities that make them excel at being good also enable excellence at being bad.
2. The northern Muslim problem. The failure of Muslims from the far north to handle the crisis that modernity wrought on their society is arguably the millstone around Nigeria's neck. They have an unreasonable sense of superiority that is expressed in condescension or violence. This prevents the integration of their members into other societies and integration of members of other societies into theirs. The social failure of the Muslim far north makes them the worst people in Nigeria, but in a different way. A way that is completely negative both in motivation and effect because it benefits neither the victim nor the initiator.
3. The problem of fitness of ideals. Nigeria pays lip service to modern ideals of secularity, checks and balances in government, a free press and so on. Which of these ideals are necessary for national cohesion and which are detrimental to it? Which of them are compatible with the current structure of our nation? Are they necessary for or a hindrance to the more pressing issues of effective government?
The book is neither recommended nor not-recommended. It is easy to read. It has some intriguing bits the pursuit of which would probably be gratifying. However, given the author's reputation, his treatment of some of the topics add nothing to what one would learn from say a magazine article. The book itself reads like a magazine article. Given the quality of his other books, one gets the impression that this is an assembly line job, the sort of boilerplate output of romance writers who produce 6 novels every year. It reminded me of beer adverts. When the beer is poured into a glass, I imagine that even though the foamy head is nice, it would be frustrating if the actual beer in the glass turns out to be foam too. That is how I felt when I read the book, like I was given a glass of beer that turned out to be all foam.