Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond

A site visitor writes:
I wanted to let you know about another interesting book you'll want to consider adding to your list of recommended books. I was fortunate to attend a lecture last week by Jared Diamond who writes articles for Discover Magazine and others. He is a Prof. of physiology at UCLA school of medicine and an evolutionary biologist. He gave a lecture on his newest book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

The book is about which societies have dominated the world and why. Rather than racist (saying that whites are the smartest) or religious (whites are God's chosen people) reasons, he has some excellent environmental and cultural reasons. Let me give you a quote from the book jacket.

Why did the Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this groundbreaking book, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for histories broadest patterns. Here, at last, is a world history that really is a history of all the world's peoples, a unified narrative of human life even more intriguing and important than accounts of dinosaurs and glaciers.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when the Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, paths of development of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of wild plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China, Mesoamerica, the southeastern US, and other areas, gave peoples of those regions a head start. Why wheat and corn, cattle and pigs, and the modern world's other "blockbuster" crops and livestock arose in those particular regions and note elsewhere was, until now, but faintly understood.

Societies that advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage were more likely to develop writing, technology, government, organized religions - as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war.

A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world, and its inequalities, came to be.

John Kurmann writes on the Ishmael list:
I recently finished this amazing book, and I thought I'd pass on a recommendation to all of you. It essentially seeks to answer the same question ISHMAEL did, How did things come to be this way over the last 10,000 years? Why did human societies develop so differently in different parts of the world, and why did some of those societies colonize many of the rest?

Where ISHMAEL explores the realm of vision/worldview, though, this book finds its answers in the fields of plant domestication, geography, climate, political organization, food production, and infectious disease, among others. Diamond spans a huge range of disciplines in seeking to answer that question. If you are interested in history, and you want to understand the world, this book is extremely helpful. I know of no other which pulls so much information together to provide a plausible explanation, and its an excellent companion to ISHMAEL.

Which doesn't mean the book is perfect. Diamond does rehash the same basic information too many times in different sections of the book. I kept finding myself thinking "Yeah, I already got that one, let's move on." It's worth wading through the reiteration, though.

It's an investment of time to read this book, but people who really want to know how the heck we got here will find it a worthy one.

"This is a brilliantly written, passionate, whirlwind tour through 13,000 years of history on all the continents--a short history of everything about everybody. The origins of empires, religion, writing, crops, and guns are all here. By at last providing a convincing explanation for the differing developments of human societies on different continents, the book demolishes the grounds for racist theories of history. Its account of how the modern world was formed is full of lessons for our own future. After reading the first two pages, you won't be able to put it down." -- Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

"He has produced a superb work of synthesis, bringing together history, archaeology, agriculture, linguistics, medicine and many other fields. It is hard to evaluate just how strong his overall thesis is, but he is persuasive and surely has the right general idea. And even those who disagree with Diamond completely may appreciate Guns, Germs and Steel, many chapters of which can stand alone." -- Danny Yee