Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a national bestseller the global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.In this artful, informative, and delightful William H McNeill, New York Review of Books book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world Societies that had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter gatherer stage, and then developed writing, technology, government, and organized religion as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history.Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth Club of California s Gold Medal

10 thoughts on “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

  1. Molly Molly says:

    This is what happens when you take an intelligent person, and casually make a few mentions of a field of study they have no knowledge of.Mr Diamond, NOT an anthropologist, takes Marvin Harris theory of cultural materialism and uses it to explain everything in life, history, and the current state of the world.Materialism is a way of looking at human culture which, for lack of a better way to explain it easily here, says that people s material needs and goods determine behavior and culture For instance Jews stopped eating pigs because it became so costly to feed pigs they themselves were starving.On the surface, materialism seems very logical Like any theory it has to be at least somewhat probable sounding, and since people are used to thinking of life, these days, in terms of materialistic values already, Harris theory sounds logical and likely very often.But like every other time you attempt to explain everything that ever happened in the history of man with one theory, this falls desperately short of reality Materialism is likely ONLY when coupled, sensibly, with other theories and, need I say it, actual PROOF, of which Diamond has little.As an exercise in materialist theory this book is magnificent I would recommend this book ONLY to people in Anthropology with a great understanding of theory, less educated or unwarned people might think this book is fact rather than an exercise in speculation As an explanation of why the world is the way it is, it is an utter and complete failure.

  2. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    Why you white men have so much cargo i.e., steel tools and other products of civilization and we New Guineans have so little Jared Diamond is a biologist, who had a passion for studying birds, particularly the birds of New Guinea But as he came to know and appreciate the many native people he met in his work, the question asked by a New Guinean named Yani remained with him Why was it that westerners had so much relative to New Guinean natives, who had been living on that land for forty thousand years Many found an explanation in racial exceptionalism Diamond decided to find out Was one group of people smarter than another Why was there such dimorphism in the amount of cargo produced and toted by different groups The arguments he seeks to counter are those stating that since civilization came to full flower in the Eurasian countries and not in places where other races dominated, that this success indicated innate superiority He offers a stunning analysis of why civilization emerged in the places in which it did Jared Diamond image from The GuardianGuns figure large in why some societies were able dominate others, but the development of guns was not a universal The materials necessary are not equally distributed over the planet, and there are technological prerequisites It turns out that not every locale is ideal for the emergence of farming He offers some detail on why farming flourished in some areas than in others The importance of domesticated animals is considered Diamond shows how it was possible for them to have been domesticated in some, but not all of the theoretically possible locations He discusses the impact of germs, the immunity defense developed by urban dwellers, and the harm those germs can cause when those urban dwellers come into contact with peoples who lack such immunities Although Steel figures prominently in the title, and is significant in its use in weaponry, this aspect is given the lightest treatment in the book Diamond closes with a plea for history to be redefined as History Science, claiming that, as with many other historical sciences, it holds the elements necessary to merit the science designation.While I might have been happier if the title had been Guns, Germs, and Seeds, it remains a seminal look at the whys and wherefores of how some societies came to flourish, often at the expense of others It has nothing to do with genes Guns, Germs and Steel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter and FB pagesAn excellent National Geogrtaphic documentary was made of this book Here is a link to the first of its three episodes.Diamond s book Collapse, is also amazing.

  3. Manny Manny says:

    I liked this book, and it taught me a bunch of things I hadn t known before I read it Jared Diamond has clearly had a interesting life than most of us, and spent significant amounts of time in a wide variety of different kinds of society, all over the world He says he got the basic idea from a conversation he had back in the 70s with a friend in New Guinea His friend, who later became a leader in the independence movement, wanted to talk about cargo manufactured goods, technology Why is it, he asked, that you Europeans have so much cargo than we do Diamond thought he had come up with a good question, and wrote the book in an attempt to answer it.The core of Diamond s explanation is that Europeans were essentially lucky in two respects First, we have unusually many easily domesticable plant and animal species Second, since Europe is oriented East West rather than North South, a species which is domesticated in one part of Europe has a good chance of thriving in another, so there are many opportunities to swap farming technology between different areas It helps that there is an easily navigable river system, and also that there are no impassible deserts or mountain ranges These conditions are not reproduced in most other parts of the world Diamond has a range of interesting tables, showing how few useful domesticable species there are elsewhere Because we got efficient farming earlier than most other people, we also got cities and advanced technology earlier, and everything else followed from that initial lead we established.One objection you could make is that it wasn t luck, but rather that Europeans were enterprising than people in other areas about finding good species to domesticate Diamond s answer to this is fairly convincing Having lived extensively with pre industrial people, he says that we city dwellers just don t understand how well they know their flora and fauna, and how active their interest in them is I guess a New Guinea tribesman would, conversely, be surprised at how quickly word gets around on the Internet when a cool new website appears Basically, what he s saying is that pre industrial people tried everything that could be tried, and when they didn t find anything good, it s because it wasn t there Systematic studies by modern scientists do seem to support this conclusion.Another criticism some readers have leveled at Diamond is that he makes history completely deterministic once the geography was fixed, everything that happened after that was inevitable I don t actually think that s fair Diamond is open about the fact that his theories make one embarrassingly incorrect prediction if it was all about being first to domesticate plant and animal species and set up efficient farming, then China should be the world s preeminent civilization Even though he makes some attempt to explain why this isn t so, there does right now seem to be a fair case for saying that it s not only geography.Luckily, George W Bush has been working hard to try and smooth things out If the Western world can just arrange two or three leaders like him, all of Diamond s data will hopefully come out the way it s supposed to, and the last few hundred years of Western history can be written off as a statistical blip Way to go, Dubya _________________________________I was surprised this morning to discover that Darwin, in On the Origin of Species, expressed an opinion diametrically opposite to the one Diamond argues for If it has taken centuries or thousands of years to improve or modify most of our plants up to their present standard of usefulness to man, we can understand how it is that neither Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, nor any other region inhabited by quite uncivilised man, has afforded us a single plant worth culture It is not that these countries, so rich in species, do not by a strange chance possess the aboriginal stocks of any useful plants, but that the native plants have not been improved by continued selection up to a standard of perfection comparable with that given to the plants in countries anciently civilised.Does Diamond mention this Unfortunately, I don t have a copy to hand.

  4. Mike Mike says:

    Author Jared Diamond s two part thesis is 1 the most important theme in human history is that of civilizations beating the crap out of each other, 2 the reason the beat ors were Europeans and the beat ees the Aboriginees, Mayans, et al is because of the geographical features of where each civilization happened to develop Whether societies developed gunpowder, written language, and other technological niceties, argues Diamond, is completely a function of whether they emerged amidst travel and trade condusive geography and easily domesticable plants and animals.I m not sure I agree that why the Spanish obliterated the Mayans instead of visa versa is the most interesting question of human history How about the evolution of ideas, or the impact of great leaders and inventors But it is an interesting question, and worth exploring Diamond is a philosophical monist, neatly ascribing just about every juncture in human history to a single cause or related group of causes Given his extensive background in botany and geology, it makes sense that he would look for the impact of those factors in the human story Unfortunately, those factors are all he regards as important he relegates to insignificance the contribution of ideas, innovations, and the decision making of individuals or cultures His view is fatalistic, seemingly motivated by a P.C era desire to pronounce all cultures equal, and their fates the product of random circumstance.A contradiction here is that fatalistic viewpoints are incompatible with moral pronouncements If nobody can control their actions, who s to blame for anything Diamond is condemnatory of the Spanish incursion into Mayan lands, but the logical consequence of his theory is that the Mayans would have done the same to the Spanish if they had been first to develop the musket and frigate Taking Diamond s theory seriously means we d have to view imperialism as natural and unavoidable, like the predation of animals, and be unable to criticize any culture s actions whatever.All that said this is a fascinating and worthwhile read.There s no doubt that the factors Diamond identified had some role in human progress, however, and if you can put aside the author s predisposition towards his own field and somewhat sketchy philosophical foundation, the book is a compelling and vivid account of what life was like for the earliest civilizations Diamond describes the evolution of agriculture, written language, and other indispensable facets of human history, giving us a crash tour through the earliest days of human history The specialized expertise that ultimately derails Diamond s overview at the same time offers a compelling and detailed view of the rise of mankind.

  5. Michael Finocchiaro Michael Finocchiaro says:

    It took me a while to complete Diamond s book and admittedly I also distracted myself with a few Roth novels in the meantime because of the density of the text and the variety of ideas presented The central thesis that it is not racial biology that determines the victors in history but rather a complex combination of agriculture, geography, population density, and continental orientation is a fascinating and compelling one The style is not academic and did admittedly put me off by using sentences with in them , and yet does come across as the fruit of years or decades of research in an astounding number of fields simultaneously biology, agriculture, history, climatology, sociology, etc I can understand why Mr Diamond received accolades and a Pulitzer for this complex work written at the level that the layman, non scientist can still grasp The funniest story that struck me was the QWERTY keyboard one which apparently is the least ergonomic design but due to its rapid adoption by typists due to capitalist competition and afterwards its ubiquity once computers became important, it is impossible to dislodge I still find it easier to use than the AZERTY one here in France LOL The one thing that struck me and here I warn readers that I climb on my soapbox near the Marble Arch for a moment is the abundance of corroborating evidence for human evolution and development that has solid artefacts and proof going back 40000 years and by the most precise dating methods available by today s scientists For anyone with a shred of intelligence to try and say the world is only 6000 years old and created in state as it were is pure insanity and blindness And yet, we now have high placed individuals in the US holding these beliefs and poised to poison American youth with medieval and ignorant ideas such as young earth creationism If one is to take reality at face value rather than with massive filters eliminating reason and coherence from it, then one cannot possibly justify believing that all humans came from Adam and Eve and that they were white as snow and racially superior to their offspring This book proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that just because one has white skin, that this is not a determinant in the development of the individual and his her peers as human beings It is critical that works like this get wide diffusion in order to debunk racial superiority theories that gave rise to the horrors on Hitler and continue to inform white supremacists and Islamic radicals and all other religious or racial bigots because their underlying fundamentals are based on patently false principles OK, down from soapbox now The book was well written if a bit repetitive at times and presents eye opening and inventive analysis that will help me see the world I live in differently Highly recommended Especially in view of the rise of revisionist, white supremacist bullshit.

  6. Jason Koivu Jason Koivu says:

    Misleading The actual title should be Germs, More Germs and a bit about Steel And Guns, but not very much on those last two reallyI mean, we want to put Guns first because it s attention grabbing than Germs, but let s face it, this book is mostly about Germs Why has no publishing house knocked down my door trying to obtain my book titling services yet

  7. Nate Nate says:

    This may be the most over rated book in the history of book rating The point he is making is that we in Western Civilazation haven t built skyscrapers, made moon landings, mass produced automobiles, eradicated polio or for that matter lived indoors with running water while aborigines in certain remote outposts still hunt and gather in isolated tribes because we are inherently any smarter or industrious than those individuals Of course he is mostly right, but why in the 21st century is this considered such a novel idea, and why does he have to be so BORING about it Don t believe the hype.

  8. Joshua Parkinson Joshua Parkinson says:

    In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and a band of 168 Spaniards punctured the heart of the Inca Empire and proceeded to capture its emperor, decimate its citizens, and plunder its gold Why didn t it happen the other way around Why didn t the Incas sail to Europe, capture Charles V, kill his subjects, and loot his castles and cathedrals Jared Diamond attempts to answer this question in Guns, Germs Steel Why have Europeans tended to dominate other peoples on other continents Does it have something to do with race Were Europeans cleverer than other races Diamond says no It wasn t racial characteristics that tipped the scales of fortune for the Europeans it was their geography Their geography gave them access to the best domestic grains and animals, which led to specialization and advanced technologies like steel and guns Their domestic animals also helped them develop potent germs, and the antibodies for those germs.The importance Diamond lays at the hoofs and paws of domesticated animals is, in fact, one of the fascinating themes of the book According to Diamond, our animals have played an uncanny role in our cultural and economic development, both in a negative sense human contact with farm animals facilitated the germ exchange that produced man s deadliest diseases and in a positive sense men from the Russian steppes, riding their newly domesticated horses, spread the Indo European language both westward into Europe and southeastward into Persia and India Diamond s point is that people living in areas with domesticable animals sheep, cattle, pigs, horses, etc gained an important advantage over people without them.For example, Native Americans had only three domesticated animals before 1492 llamas, turkeys, and dogs Why only three Weren t there wild horses and cattle in America too Actually, fossil records show huge populations of horses, oxen, and millions of other large mammals in the Americas until about 11,000 BC What happened around 11,000 BC You guessed it man showed up via the Bering Strait The American horses, oxen and other large mammals, having never experienced a human predator, approached the new arrivals like slobbering puppy dogs, and were consequently turned into steaks In fact, it was steaks every night for a couple thousand years for the new immigrants, until most of the continents large mammals and all but one suitable candidate for domestication were wiped out.Now this is fascinating enough, but then consider that because the Native Americans didn t have any horses, oxen, pigs, etc left to exploit as beasts of burden and domesticated food sources, they also lost the civilizational benefits those animals would have brought and did bring to Eurasians , not the least of which is germs Yes, germs Because the Native Americans didn t live in close proximity to a plethora of farm animals like their counterparts in Eurasia, they lacked the petri dish wherein deadly germs could grow and proliferate They thus failed to develop the infectious diseases and importantly the antibodies to those diseases that might have protected them from the germs of invading Europeans when Se or Columbus and his crew showed up.It was for this reason that when the Conquistadores did finally show up, they were able to wipe out 80% of the indigenous population before ever unsheathing their swords with germs with small pox and influenza, both diseases generated by the passing back and forth of germs between domesticated animals and their human caretakers small pox between cattle and humans, and influenza between pigs and ducks and humans If that doesn t blow your mind, your mind is blowproof.Then again, you may well ask What about moose and bison Why didn t Cort s and his boys float up to the Mexican shoreline and find a bloodthirsty cavalry of Aztecs on mooseback, energized by the milk and meat of their plentiful herds of bison Diamond surmises that by the time most the large mammals in America had been digested into extinction by their hungry human friends, there was only one suitable candidate left for domestication the llama alpaca Every other large mammal that remained including moose and bison lacked the qualities that allow for domestication.In all of human history only 14 large mammals have ever been domesticated sheep, goat, cattle, pigs, horses, camels Arabian and Bactrian , llamas, donkeys, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, and two minor relatives of cattle in southeast Asia called Bali cattle and mithrans Outside of these, no other large mammals have been transformed from wild animals into something useful to humans Why Why were Eurasia s horses domesticated and not Africa s zebras Why were Eurasia s wild boar domesticated and not America s peccaries or Africa s wild pigs Why were Eurasia s five species of wild cattle aurochs, water buffalo, yaks, bantengs, and gaurs domesticated and not Africa s water buffalo or America s bison Why the Asian mouflon sheep the ancestor of our sheep and not the American bighorn sheep The answer is simple we tried and it didn t work Since 2500 BC not one new large mammal out of the 148 worldwide candidates has been domesticated, and not for lack of trying In fact, in the last 200 years, at least six large mammals have been subject to well organized domestication projects the eland, elk, moose, musk ox, zebra, and American bison All six failed Why Because of one or of the following problems diet, slow growth rate, nasty disposition, tendency to panic, captive breeding problems, and or social structure.Diet Why don t we eat lion burgers Because raising lions, or any other carnivore, is uneconomical You need 10,000 lbs of feed to grow a 1,000 lb cow You would likewise need 10,000 lbs of cow to grow 1,000 pounds of lion That means you d need 100,000 lbs of feed to produce 1,000 pounds of lion Hence the lack of lion burgers on the Wendy s drive thru menu.Growth rate Why don t we eat rhino burgers Simple, it takes 15 20 years for a rhino to reach adult size while it only takes cows a couple.Nasty disposition Here s where we eliminate zebra burgers, hippo burgers, grizzly burgers and bison burgers These animals retain their nasty and dangerous tempers even after several generations of captive breeding Did you know zebras injure zookeepers per year than do lions and tigers Tendency to panic No deer or gazelle burgers either Why Because they take flight at the first sign of danger and will literally kill themselves running into a fence over and over to escape the threat.Captive breeding problems Many animals have elaborate breeding rituals that can t happen in captivity.Social structure This may be the most important requirement for domesticates The best candidates for domestication live in herds, maintain a clear herd hierarchy, and overlap ranges with other herds rather than having exclusive ranges Here humans just take over the top of the hierarchy They literally become the herd leader think Dog Whisperer.So the reason European explorers didn t find Native American ranchers with herds of bison and bighorn sheep is because these animals can t be domesticated Diamond contends that if there had been any horses left in the Americas, or any of the other 13 candidates for domestication, the Native Americans surely would have domesticated them, and reaped all the attendant benefits But alas, their great great grandpas had already killed, grilled and digested them all.Diamond s book is a great read If you re a student of history, it s a must read The way I see it, the story of man and the story of all things, for that matter is the story of varied states of disequilibrium moving violently and inexorably toward equilibrium What was Pizarro s vanquishing of Atahualpa s empire if not an example of such violent re balancing The beauty of Diamond s book is that it seems to pinpoint, with surprising simplicity, the original source of disequilibrium among men geography Roughly put, some got born in the right place and some didn t Skin color had nothing to do with it Race has always been nothing than an arbitrary mark to show the geographical birthplace of one s ancestors.By the way, if you do read this book, take note of the way we humans first discovered agriculture According to Diamond, it happened at the latrine We d go out gathering seeds, eating some along the way, and then come back to camp and defecate, all in the same spot Guess what started growing in that spot Yes, my friends, as crude as it may sound, we humans shat are way to civilization Thank your ass when you get a chance.

  9. Siria Siria says:

    Terrible This is one of those books which seems at face value as if it has an interesting and persuasive thesis, and indeed there are a couple of reasonable points in here, but by and large Guns, Germs, and Steel is a poorly written book, shoddily argued and riddled with factual errors Jared Diamond s thesis is that the differences which one can observe in technological and economic development around the world do not result from racial differences but rather from geographical ones the variety and nutritional value of available crops, the number of animals which could be domesticated, the geographical axes of the various continents Diamond claims that this is an anti racist theory because it points out that white people were just lucky, not inherently deserving or talented or resourceful than people anywhere else in the world However, Diamond s intention to write an anti racist book doesn t mean that he succeeded in doing so There are layers of problematic assumptions and unconscious Eurocentrism underlying his writing, layers which make Guns, Germs, and Steel an uneasy read you for the reader whom Diamond seems to hypothesise in the book is a white Westerner there s no sense that a PoC from, say, Malaysia or Egypt might have picked it up should not feel a sense of accountability or responsibility or guilt for colonialism or imperialism or the ongoing exploitation of most of the world s population by those living in the developed world It s no one s fault it s just geography When it comes to assessing the reliability of Diamond s arguments, the fact that there are no footnotes and no full bibliography make that a somewhat difficult task but I know enough about sub Saharan African history to know that he characterises several key things incorrectly, and just enough about the history of the Americas to be very suspicious about things that Diamond claims There are numerous minor factual errors, like saying that oi means sheep in Irish p 343 The Irish word for sheep is caora , and as far as I know, there s no such word as oi or even o in Irish This is admittedly minor, but if you indulge in repeated bouts of carelessness like that, you re going to make me suspicious about the factual foundations of the rest of your arguments And indeed, while I can t assess the validity of some of Diamond s scientific claims though the continent axis theory falls apart the you start to think about it, as does his failure to consider the impact of human alteration of the environment I do know that I d expect better historical argumentation from an undergraduate history major For instance, when about to describe the meeting of the conquistador Pizarro with the Incan emperor Atahuallpa, he says What unfolded that day at Cajamarca is well known, because it was recorded in writing by many of the Spanish participants by six of Pizarro s companions, including his brothers Hernando and Pedro pp 68 69 Which of course is nonsense What we have is a record of what six individual Spanish men and no Incans wanted the Spanish king to think had happened on that day A moment s thought would tell you that there are multiple problems with using their writings as a straightforward means of assessing anything about Incan culture and society Rookie errors like that made me roll my eyes extra hard at the epilogue in which Diamond explains to historians what our discipline should look like and how we should think of it How about no, sir if you ve repeatedly demonstrated a lack of ability to think historically, you don t get to decide what historians should do It s also worth pointing out that even if one accepts Diamond s thesis as persuasive, it doesn t actually answer the question he sets out to answer why it is that European Western societies set out to establish political and cultural hegemony over the rest of the world and were so successful at it Just because a society is technologically or economically complex than its neighbour doesn t mean that it automatically sets out to conquer it that s a question you can t answer with geography You have to theorise power and social structure, and Diamond can t do that Avoid.

  10. carol. carol. says:

    Stopped on page 88 for the time being, because, man, do people ever suck We historically sucked But since humans used to invade other humans territory and do a lot of killing, at least things have changed now.Oh, wait.