Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail

Front Cover
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Dec 28, 2012 - 116 pages

 Immoderate Greatness explains how a civilization’s very magnitude conspires against it to cause downfall. Civilizations are hard-wired for self-destruction. They travel an arc from initial success to terminal decay and ultimate collapse due to intrinsic, inescapable biophysical limits combined with an inexorable trend toward moral decay and practical failure. Because our own civilization is global, its collapse will also be global, as well as uniquely devastating owing to the immensity of its population, complexity, and consumption. To avoid the common fate of all past civilizations will require a radical change in our ethos—to wit, the deliberate renunciation of greatness—lest we precipitate a dark age in which the arts and adornments of civilization are partially or completely lost.


From Kirkus Reviews
“Ophuls’ clear writing, thorough research and elegant logic make his treatise a thoughtful, discussing-provoking work.”
"Ophuls superbly synthesizes a huge amount of literature and presents the synthesis in an easily accessible format with beautifully clear prose. He doesn’t sugarcoat his message. There's no false optimism here. The patient (modern human civilization) is critically and perhaps terminally ill, and Ophuls explains why with enormous skill."
Thomas Homer-Dixon, University of Waterloo, author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization.
I was surprised how brief this book was, but Ophuls really covers the ground needed to lead to inescapable and powerful conclusions. It's not a pretty forecast, but it's hard to find fault with any of his analysis. I've been interested in this topic for a long time so I had read many of his reference materials already. I'm not sure this book would work well as an introduction, but then, I can't really speak to that.
Too early to tell how much this book has changed my life, but it certainly brought some ideas firmly together and put my head in a spin for a few days. It will change the way you look at the world. To my way of thinking, it's a good thing to know what's coming. This book doesn't spell out details, but clearly outlines the broad trends that are shaping the future. As I said, the conclusions are inescapable. No one can forecast the exact times things will go down, but Ophuls' vision of the future will surely be here soon enough.
As short as it is, it's very well worth the time. I might even use the word Masterpiece. Very well crafted. Everyone should read it.


What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

If you have read Arnold Toynbee's 'A Study of History', 'Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update', and/or 'A Short History of Progress', you will like this book. While you shudder at it's conclusions. Read Jeremy Grantham's review on

About the author (2012)

William Ophuls spent eight years in the U. S. Foreign Service, serving in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo, before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. In 1977, he published *Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity*. It won two prizes and was instrumental in establishing the field of environmental politics. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published three books on the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. When not at his writing desk, he spends his time rambling in nature, either in his native California or in the mountains of Europe.

Bibliographic information