Not a book per se, but wished to bring up two interesting titles that my today’s browsing brought up. Both relate to how societies collapse and why it happens: one of them postulates that the reason is economics, the second that environmental factors are the main cause. [Naturally, they are speaking of the main cause of such a momentous event, for there is no single reason but a variety of them with one taking the foreground, at least how I see it.]
The first of these, ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed’ by J.M. Diamond is the one with the environmental approach. All that I know now is what I read from Wikipedia (article link here) but it sounds rather reasonable for most instances, though the picture becomes less clear once one reads the criticism of the book. I do believe, based on what I read, that even if the thesis itself is not perfect then the thoughts written should present a view which the modern world needs to take into account. The environment can cause the collapse of a civilization, especially if treated carelessly. Refer to this month (July 2011) NG article on food supply (link here).
The second book (or rather, a paper) argues that energy economics is what forces a society to collapse upon itself. ‘Complexity, Problem Solving and Sustainable Societies’ by J. Tainter (Wiki article here; full paper here) is the name of this title and as far as I can see it brings up examples that relate to the question of how problem solving works. This is, however, not his main title (‘The Collapse of Complex Societies’) which would have investigated the topic more thoroughly and is likely to be a worthy companion to the aforementioned book by Diamond.