Guns, Germs and Steel : A Short History of Everbody for the Last 13000 Years Paperback
Why has human history unfolded so differently across the globe?
Jared Diamond puts the case that geography and biogeography, not race, moulded the contrasting fates of Europeans, Asians, Native Americans, sub-Saharan Africans, and aboriginal Australians.
An ambitious synthesis of history, biology, ecology and linguistics, Guns, Germs and Steel is a ground-breaking and humane work of popular science.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 480 pages, 32 b&w halftones
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 25/04/1998
- Category: General & world history
- ISBN: 9780099302780
Showing 1 - 5 of 11 reviews.
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Review by DSD
This book was a definite eye opener on a variety of subjects. For me, parts two (The Rise and Spread of Food) and three (From Food to Guns) where the most interesting. I was amazed to learn how natural selection already started with food domestication and how the first farmers were already practicing a primitive form of genetic engineering. It was also astonishing to learn that the first full blown (although unintentional) form of biological warfare was waged against the Native Americans by the early American settlers. By the time the settlers reached mid America, there were almost no Native American's left to be displaced because they had been wiped out by the likes of influenza and small pox. Learning that most human diseases originated in animals also shed new light on the bird flu epidemics of recent times. It's also worth considering that if the Chinese hadn't given up on building sea worthy ships, America might have a very different racial mix right now (this was also covered in Kim Stanley Robinsons alternate history book called "The Years of Rice and Salt").The begining of the book is a bit tough to get into but once you do it becomes easier except towards the end where the author tries to apply "what you've learned" to why the world is the way it is which doesn't have the same pace as previous chapters.All in all an educational and interesting read.
Review by ablueidol
Clear counter argument to assumptions that Western ascendancy is down to genetic advantage. At its simplest the historical decision of who turned right or left when the African Diaspora happen sealed the fate of many peoples. But this is being flippant about a serious issue. The essential argument is that the availability of domesticatable plants and animals (and the level of benefit for switching from hunting-gathering)affected how early and successfully could food production kick off. A key to the availability and speed of transmission is the axis of the continents. Hence Euroasia with its west-east axis as the longest belt of similar temperature zones so skills and technology can move up and down with relative issue. This is not the case in say the Americas and Africa where the cultural hot-spots where both isolated from each other and lacked access to many of the key plants and animals. Once food production took off then population increased which if with large scale animal production created a germ base that over time created a level of immunity not created for those societies less dense or with limited animal production. Again if limited transmission then limited immunity is built up. A lot of western conquests were down to having wiping the population out with germs and then importing the crops and animals that would allow for population expansion.As population increases then the opportunity for technology and idea specialists develops and if ease of transmission then competition between communities/ states drives development. Lack of competition or isolation limited the drive to develop or use the technology. Japanese in the 16th century encountered and then improved the guns of the time but for 200 years withdraw and abandoned the technology that could have had serious consequences for the region. Or the central African tribes that independently discovered Iron and then Steel some 2000 years before the West.Once he has established his thesis by examining each of the key continents, he explores a range of case studies to test if it can explain the different historical journeys of say China, Africa, and other major non western areas.I think this is where some of the criticism comes from that the book is repetitive. He tends to do the lecture thing of telling you what he is going to say, say it and the summarizing what he has said. I found it useful as I read it over a number of days on trains, lunch breaks etc to keep the key points clear as they were "tested" with case studies.The only main criticism I would make of the whole argument which makes a lot of sense is that it tends to underplay the importance of social struggle within the constraints of the geographical base. He does mention that the social structure of Japan was a key factor in the isolation but misses that it was the struggle to create a central state and reject the rising Christian mission that drove the policy. Its geographical position enabled this to be a success. Likewise China kept frustrating possible technological or imperial leaps but less down to the whim of the Emperor but because those changes would have challenged the social order. But again I accept this as a policy was only possible because of the successful previous agricultural revolution that created a unified China.For "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."
Review by wyvernfriend
An interesting book this looks at how human society developed over the years. I'm not totally sure that it's absolutely correct but it makes for interesting reading and should be compulsary reading for some SF and Fantasy writers who are trying to build a credible world. It's interesting to see how availability of resources and ideas can cause societies to move forward and innovate. Probably a bit over-simplified in some areas and I did suffer from some glazeover while reading some of the statistics or when he starts getting a little geekish about his own particular area of expertese.
Review by AnnaOok
The basic idea of the book is that history, at the very-long-duration level, is determined by geography. The determinism does not extend to the shorter duration, which makes it more acceptable, though any kind of determinism leaves me uneasy.The key concepts are food production, population size and density, societal organization and technology, more or less in that order of causation. "Germs" are then decisive for European colonization of the Americas and Australia, and are in turn determined by animal domestication and population density.The book has interesting bits and would be an interesting read if it wasn't so bleedin' repetitive, sometimes repeating the bleedin' obvious until you want to shake it. Part 1, 2 and 3 often repeat the exact same facts/speculations, which are also repeated within the same section. The style often reminds me of someone talking to a nice but slow child, which is not endearing either.Although the main impression while reading the book was that <i>I</i> was listening to someone who isn't very bright, though he makes an effort, poor dear.There are no footnotes, cites or attributions for any of the facts mentioned in the book. There is no bibliography of sources, although there is a "further reading" appendix which is likely to contain many of his sources, but they're not marked as such. I find this to be really sub-par even for popularization. A peculiarity that struck me is that in his purported "history of everybody" he manages to comprehensively, repeatedly and completely ignore India. Makes me wonder if it's because he doesn't know squat about it (but he does seem to have done his homework, even if he doesn't cite it), or because it doesn't fit his theories. (I don't know enough about India myself to tell if it does -- but I do know enough to see that the omission stands out like a sore thumb.)Mainly, after reading this book, I am puzzled at having seen it cited so many times that I'd come to the conclusion it was one of those books that "you just have to read" to keep up with discussion and conversation. It <i>could</i> have been a good book, but it isn't, really. I agree with a lot of it (and in fact I consider some of it bleedin' obvious, as previously noted), but it didn't convince me of anything I didn't already believe (though it did add some detail to it).Someone should take this and do it <i>well</i>. Actually, maybe it's been done, only not in popular form.
Review by doggie38
The author has presented his views in a clear, logical manner. Readers need not be educated in science or history to understand or enjoy this book.
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