Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Survive contains an in-depth study of the factors that led to the collapse of societies through the course of history. He starts off by examining different societies such as the Mayan civilization and the Easter Island society that collapsed, and compares them to civilizations that faced similar challenges and were able to survive.
Diamond is very honest with the readers and tells them that he initially believed that environmental abuse was the reason behind their extinction. He then tells the readers that there are several factors that led to their demise, which include hostile neighbors, changes in climate, environmental issues, and the decrease of necessary trading partners.
He also tells the readers about 12 major environmental issues faced worldwide, eight of which include overpopulation, overhunting, water management issues, overfishing, deforestation, soil issues, impact of introduced species on native ones, and elevated per-capita influence of people. He believes that these eight issues have also played a key role in destroying societies in the past. Diamond then adds four more issues, which include lack of energy, increased toxins in the environment, extensive human utilization of the photosynthetic capacity of the earth, and anthropogenic climate change.
After delving on these 12 issues, Diamond revisits the subject of overpopulation, which he believes is the sole reason for the collapse of societies. He makes use of a number of case studies to support his propositions, some of which include the highlands of New Guinea, China, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Greenland, and the Pitcairn and Henderson Islands.