“Upheaval” Makes a Curious Case for Using Therapy to Heal a Nation (Book Club Pick)

Here at Pressboard, we believe in few things more than the power of a great story. Stories inspire us, galvanize us and move us to tears. They change the way that we view a particular issue or society as a whole. But most importantly, they bring us together.

This passion for storytelling is what originally inspired us to design a platform that allows brands and publishers to connect and craft outstanding content together; now, it’s the driving force behind our book club, which delivers our favourite reads — fiction, non-fiction and everything in between — to your inbox every month. Allow us to introduce our review for July 2019: Jared Diamond’s Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis.

While browsing recommendations for this month’s book, I stumbled upon Bill Gates’ 2019 summer reading list with Jared Diamond’s Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis as the number one pick.

Jared Diamond is a renowned polymath and professor with a number of awards under his belt, most notably for his work in the sciences. He is the author of several international best-selling books, including Guns, Germs, and Steel for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. I went into this book with high expectations and it certainly didn’t disappoint, as far as excitement and intrigue goes.

Diamond makes an interesting observation for why some nations recover from trauma and others don’t. He argues that the reason certain countries in history were able to overcome a national crisis lies behind the immediate action they took. His thesis: Countries that were able to rebuild after catastrophe employed coping mechanisms similar to those seen among individuals healing from personal loss.

The timing of this book was perfect for me as I’ve just recently completed an introductory psychology class. I’ll admit, I was mighty pleased with myself for recognizing the psychotherapy jargon and theories that popped up throughout this book.

Diamond begins the book with an anecdotal story of his own personal disaster — involving eels and a lab experiment — after which a pep-talk with his father sets him back on the course of his studies. While I personally think it’s a stretch to correspond this road bump in Diamond’s life with the devastating post-war effects on the nation of Finland, for example (which he later mentions in the book), it’s a glimpse into the origins of Diamond’s abstract theory.

Six case studies, each highlighting a country and a historic national crisis, are followed by an advice column that parallels current world issues. Having spent an extensive amount of time in each of the countries included in his book, Diamond’s accounts of these histories are painfully honest. He humanizes these national crises by relating them to personal ones like divorce or loss of a loved one.

This book is controversial, to say the least. Perhaps even more interesting than the book itself is the resulting discussion created around the theory. As with anything with strong political views, Upheaval garners varied reactions from critics — some in agreement with Diamond’s analysis and others, not so much.

I felt the book lacked hard evidence and data but it offered an interesting and emotional narration of nations during times of crisis. Albeit an overly simplistic solution, Diamond’s case for using therapy to heal the world left me feeling hopeful for the future.

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