Another great book by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
Goes through time and around the world and looks at how societies build up and how most inevitably collapse. My favorite chapter was on Easter Island – I think of it as a barren landscape w/ cool statues, but as the book describes, according to research, the island was full of vegetation and even had 100′ palm trees, the tallest ones in the Pacific. Apparently there were a number of competing groups — competing in terms of who could do the most/biggest/best statues – and they used palm trees to roll the statues, among other things. Eventually someone cut down the last palm tree (one fun question is, what were they thinking as surely they knew they were cutting down the last one), and well, they all died out after several hundred years. On the other hand, there are other, smaller, islands in the Pacific that have sustained human populations for over 1000 years, so it’s not the case that it’s impossible to survive in such isolation. The author shows a number of pairs of societies that are presented with similar situations, and shows how the choses each makes affects their survival.
This was a great book — I couldn’t put it down.