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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
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Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye--and his heart--belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.

Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye and his heart belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fascinating but repetitive
    I won't give a synopsis of the book as there are plenty of other good reviews that cover that. I'll just say I found this book to have a fascinating and compelling argument for why history has gone the way it has. I did not find it to be racist or even biased as the author goes to great lengths to explain his every viewpoint and provides plenty of valid reasons against any kind of bias.

    The biggest flaw of the book, in my mind at least, is that it is terribly repetitive. Diamond repeats the same points and conclusions many times. It gets to the point where you feel that entire pages could have been cut out and the book would have lost nothing. Aside from that however, it is an entertaining and informative read. ...more info
  • Why Didn't the Incas Invade Spain?
    The Aborigines of Australia built mankind's first known watercraft 40,000 plus years ago, yet today they are the most primitive stone age people of any continent. Why is that?

    Did the mother of invention arise from people living in harsh tropical/desert climates forced to invent in order to survive? Or did it arise in colder climates more readily because people were trapped in their warm home with nothing else to do but experiment? Was it both?

    Most critics of this book sound to me like they have only read the summary on the back of the book. Their arguments are preconceived.

    Even if you are one of those critics, read it. Disagree with it afterwards if you still want to, regardless I think it will add new perspective to human history for you. If you decide you want to write your own book based on how genetics and anthropometry shaped human history, by all means do so. I'd gladly read that too.

    But don't just shrug if off before hearing him out. That's selfish cynicism and counterproductive to scientific understanding....more info
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Delivery was on time, so fast. The book is really good condition like brand new. I am satisfied with it very much. Thanks....more info
  • Progress of Civilization
    The problem with attributing human social development to externalities is that it glosses over the essential differences between all societies- that is how labor is socially organized and who decides how to allocate and use the social surplus. While geography tempers social development, it is the method of social production that is the overwhelming determinant of social success. Slave societies out produce hunter-gatherers. Feudal out-produces slave, and wage labor out produces slavery and feudal systems.

    What is more more instructive is how current social relations restrict and hamper social development by wasting social production on useless activities like military ventures and individualized social decision-making. e.g. Individuals riding in cars instead of individuals sharing mass transportation, a more socially efficient transportation system....more info
  • The worst thing to come out of the Bell curve/IQ debate
    I'll make this short. Pure dreck. As an academic myself, I suspect that this book was written as a dare to see if he could get away with writing a book on a field outside of his topic of expertise without any actual data to support an incoherent set of bold hypotheses.

    Well, looks like he won his dare. I wonder what this means for the state of civilization.

    Anyway. Book is deeply dishonest, intellectually speaking.

    It is cheap, though. ...more info
  • Makes you slap your forehead and wonder why you'd never thought of this
    Eg. a crop moving quickly along the same latitude, but taking a long time to traverse north/south because it would be crossing such radically different climates; or how impoverished a people can be if they are in an area with no beasts of burden to domesticate.

    I appreciate Diamond's expression of his opinions, neither too lengthy, nor too brief. Pat his editor on the back....more info
  • Science has been sacrificed to the demands of ideology before, but rarely with so much popular acclaim.
    Have you ever heard of "the Galileo Defense?" The phrase describes the phenomenon of honest, accurate science attempting to defend itself against ideology-driven accusations of those who are opposed to the implications of the scientist's work. A good example would be Darwin as he faced charges of atheism, satanism, etc. If the Galileo Defense has an opposite, it would certainly apply to this book. To save you the trouble, Guns, Germs, and Steel basically articulates the first moderately believable and (most importantly) politically correct attempt to explain why the West was able to enjoy a position of relative dominance during the past few hundred years. Unfortunately, his assertions rely on numerous glaring omissions and flawed assumptions that really undermine his credibility. The existence of peanuts is one notable example that will be easily understood by those who've read the book. Those who haven't should do themselves a favor and skip ahead to L. Ron Hubbard....more info
  • Lotus Guide Review
    I found that Guns, Germs, & Steel filled in a lot of missing pieces but the best thing was it gives a fresh outlook on why we have so many equalities among races. Until we find hard evidence we will continue to believe some of the old racist notions of genetic determinacy.
    Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide Magazine [...]...more info
  • A scientific historical treatise on the reasons for the rise and fall of civilizations
    Guns, Germs and Steel is a scientific historical treatment on the rise and fall of civilizations and the reasons why the western world is considered successful. In many ways Jared Diamond has built a city with one stone. He has established the necessity for the scientific method in history, reversed the problem of a western biased orientation of the analysis and identified several challenges to a racist explanation for western success.

    The book comes about as a result of a fundamental question raised by the friend of the authors from New Guinea. Yali asked in a roundabout way why whites have been more successful than blacks. Diamond felt that human genetic diversity in the form of racism did not answer this question and proceeded to produce this deep treatise which looks more at environmental factors as the causal agent of success or failure.

    Chapter 1: Up to the Starting Line
    This chapter does a brief synopsis of the evolution of humans and deals with the Great Leap Forward, extinctions and the Clovis culture in Americas in 11,000 BC.

    Chapter 2: A Natural Experiment of History
    Diamond shows that common stocks can produce very diverse cultures based on the environment. He cites the case of the Maoris victory over the Morioris on the Chatham islands in 1835. Both are Polynesian decedents.

    Chapter 3: Collision at Cajamarca
    Francisco Pizarro conquers the Inca emperor Atahuallpa in Cajamarca Peru in 1532. Guns, germs, steel and horses decide the victory as well as the Inca making serious mistakes many times over. It is this situation that requires an explanation as to how things got to this point and is what this book is about.

    Chapter 4: Farmer Power
    Food production is a huge part of this book and occurs frequently throughout. The book might well have been called 'farming' there is so much of it. This is an extensive fact based chapter that deals with food production. A lot of it is raw data and tables. Crops and animal domestication get the full treatment. There is an important link between animals and human germs brought up.

    Chapter 5: History's Haves and Have-Nots
    This chapter deals with carbon dating and is an extension of the last chapter verifying the types of crops and animals various civilizations had or didn't and why.

    Chapter 6: To Farm or Not to Farm
    Diamond explains the slow progress of farming and why hunter gatherers simply had more than early farmers but farming eventually outgrew hunter-gathering. He explains why some civilizations didn't adopt it based on lack of domesticated crops and animals and or inappropriate environments.

    Chapter 7: How to Make an Almond
    Because wild almonds are poisonous Diamond explains how mutations and breeding selection produces edible crops. More importantly he discusses why some crops are not edible and how this effects civilizations depending on their environment. Some civilizations had it easier than others.

    Chapter 8: Apples or Indians
    Here the Fertile Crescent richness is compared with places of sparse productivity. It becomes clear that a very low percentage of biological life can be domesticated for human consumption.

    Chapter 9: Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle
    Some animals cannot be domesticated and thus domesticated animals must be imported. This chapter is about the failure to domesticate certain animals and why. It is also about the spread of domesticated animals.

    Chapter 10: Spacious Skies and Tilted Axes
    Geography plays an important part in how wide a naturally occurring or bred species can spread. East to west is much easier than north to south because of climate. This explains why species spreading across Europe and Asia is easier than up and down North and South America.

    Chapter 11: Lethal Gift of Livestock
    Animals are responsible for a lot of human diseases and plagues. Diamond links animal husbandry and large populations with developing immunity against epidemics.

    Chapter 12: Blueprints and Borrowed Letters
    The evolution of writing. This chapter may be worth the book alone. Diamond covers the evolution of writing and is one of the reasons why this book (containing writing!) has a nice twist in its tale. Writing is important because it became a method of communication over long distances and record keeping for farmers and supplies.

    Chapter 13: Necessity's Mother
    This deals with the Cretan Minoan Phaistos disk of 1700 BC and is a continuation of the previous chapter but deals more with why technologies develop. Diamond correctly identifies that technologies don't spring out of nowhere. They evolve.

    Chapter 14: From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy
    The evolution of governments. This is a heavy data and fact laden account of the evolution of governments from small bands to tribes to cities. It is all about how societies get organized.

    Chapter 15: Yali's People
    Here Diamond applies everything we have learned to the conquest of New Guinea by Europeans. He shows how essentially they are the victims of their own environment. The conquest of Australia is also examined in the same way.

    Chapter 16: How China Became Chinese
    This is about how China's many inter-civilizations interacted and the Austronesian migration of people to the Far East and Australia.

    Chapter 17: Speedboat to Polynesia
    Moving on from the previous chapter Diamond explores the colonization of Polynesia and the evolution of the double-canoe.

    Chapter 18: Hemisphere's Colliding
    Revising everything, Diamond goes back to Chapter 3: Collision at Cajamarca and attempts to explain how things led up to that point. Food production, domestication, metallurgy, weapons, cavalry, transport, writing and political organization lead the way. The environment is given a reason behind the slower development of these points by the Inca. Diamond then reveals that the Norse, not Columbus, were the first Europeans to visit the Americas through Greenland.

    Chapter 19: How Africa Became Black
    This examines how Africa evolved internally, the various tribes involved and their long battles that have lasted centuries as well as the slow movement of technologies and discoveries from the north to the south.

    Epilogue: The Future of Human History as a Science
    Diamond puts forward his case for scientific history, dispenses with the idiosyncratic Great Man theory, points out that there are social factors involved and possibly even chaotic ones before calling on the use of the scientific historical method to predict future outcomes for humanity.

    There is no arguing the point that Diamond is making and he has established it very scientifically. Environmental conditions have an impact on how a civilization will appear and act. This is Darwinian in every sense. Using the examples of the same genetic stock from the same culture developing into two opposite lifestyles in short spaces of time because of island separation and geological differences is a good argument. You can't help but note the degree of luck and opportunity involved in success and as Diamond so aptly puts it, this is much more about the quality of real estate than the quality of a race. This is not to say that slight genetic variations don't make a difference, they do and Diamond doesn't challenge that as some have wrongly accused of him of saying (as a note the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins often cites Diamond's work). What Diamond does is to challenge that genetic variations within a species are a sufficient explanation for the success of white man. He may be riding a wave of political correctness with this book but he does dispute justifications for racism scientifically. He also breaks down absolutism by showing that success is relative when it comes to doing one's best in the environment they are in. As he points out, Aborigines conquered some of the harshest lands in the world.

    Diamond himself knows the problem with his oversimplification. His findings when applied to all civilizations throughout history will turn up contradictions that fly in the face of his reasoning but he has explained the big picture of social conquest and doesn't need to shuffle genes to do it.

    There are a few more problems with Guns, Germs and Steel though. His overall reasoning touches on environmental determinism. Diamond does deal with this serious predicament by elaborating on the social conditions and cultural qualities at play. He believes and states often that human choices influence things. Diamond does his best to cover these in the political organisation sections and throughout but a type of environmental determinism does emerge as the overall message even if it is caricatured by his critics to mean geological determinism without human influence. Diamond is not saying that. What is really the problem here is not that Diamond says the environment plays a major role in the forces at play but that he doesn't do enough to challenge the view that environmental determinism is the sufficient explanation for the success of white man. Diamond doesn't say it is sufficient but it is his conclusion that amounts to most of what he is writing. So he leaves himself open and quite frankly gets intellectually decked quite easily because a lot of people leave this book thinking as environmental determinists. Environmental determinism is just as false as racism. We go from prejudice based on skin color to prejudice based on country. He really deals with this problem in the space of just a paragraph in the epilogue and that just doesn't cut it.

    The other problems are that sometimes the picture plates are not linked to anything in the text and this book is such a torrent of facts that casual readers may find themselves skipping huge sections about which part of which country developed wheat or camels first and in which quantities just to get to his overall point. Guns, germs and steel can be taxing at the best of times because of this. There is also an expectation that maybe you would find more about evolutionary biology or important battles along with at least some case made for genes. Instead the evolution is minimal, important battles limited and no genetic defence appears. This is all about how much corn Europe can produce, how many horses Asia can tame and how much politics does the Zulu need.

    There are other weaknesses here but he does have a huge task set for himself into 400 pages. It is doubtful that the truth is the complete opposite of what Diamond is suggesting but more of a deeper elaboration of what is being said while attributing more socio-economic reasons for success along with his geographical ones. You can also just play the probability card by saying 80% of humans lived in Eurasia but the improbable does happen and has happened and the geological explanation needs to be covered anyway.

    Experts in world history may view this work as being too simple and even go as far as to call it wrong, but Diamond's task is to show the importance of environmental factors not just genetic ones when it comes to the progress of modern humans. Experts want to make that environment plus socio-economic but both are on the same side when it comes to criticizing those who argue solely the race card.

    The main point behind reading Guns, germs and steel is that it changes how we think about ourselves and the conditions leading to how we got here. At the very least your horizons will be broadened and at the very most you will be hitting the environmental determinism socio-economic debate and both are a far cry from discrimination ideologies based on Ethnic identities.

    (As an end note it is my understanding that Diamond is aware of these criticism and answered it by... writing another book that includes more of a socio-economic dynamic, called 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed'. So see you there for a follow up review)....more info
  • Great Book
    I read this book about ten years ago, and later gave away my copy. I bought another because I wanted to read it and give it away again....more info
  • The foundation for understanding, not just history, but humanity.
    I can't add much to the good reviews, but I wanted to suggest that if your child is taking history in school or shows an interest before that, please buy them this book.

    This action will reflect the main premise of the book's theory, it will create the environment for growth....more info
  • An alternative viewpoint
    Mr. Diamond must be admired for this epic work on humanity. Is it perfect, of course not, but what is perfect. He gives us a different way to view history and how geography has influnced it. I enjoyed the read and have assigned it to my students for reading and reviewing. The majority of them said it was worth the effort and it has given some instances of lively discussion in the classroom. We should tip our hats to a man who at least gives us something to think about. ...more info
  • Unrated, unreceived!!!!
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fall of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond:
    I Ordered this book on 4/24/09 and estimated delivery was May1 to May 18. So, on MemorialDay I still have not received this book. So, you see I can't really give you a review because I have been stiffed out of $15.98 by "bbofbing".

    D. Aubin...more info
  • Christmas Present
    Bought it for a Christmas present for my father, he seemed to enjoy it but said the content and pace was a little dry. Overall, he was pretty happy with it, so I'll give it a 4/5 for decent gift....more info
  • A long but also highly educational read!
    This is a must read for those who are interested in both history and the future of humankind!...more info
  • Not all factors, but some of the biggest
    In his critical review of Guns, Germs and Steel, Christopher Smith's core point is clearly legitimate: The handful of factors Diamond centers on here - environmental, in one way or another - aren't fully explicative of all of human history. The changes and shifts of technology (beyond the very basic ones he mentions) are crucial too, along with patterns of human thought and even some specific individual action. (The books listing 100 influential people in world history, for example, focus to a considerable degree on religious, philosophical and scientific innovators as major levers in human history.)

    But if Guns, Germs overreaches somewhat, it still isolates and highlights such useful trendlines for the sweep of human history that is more than just useful - it can be mind-altering. A lot of human history has been a growth from what has come before, and some groups of people and certain places have had advantages others haven't. The reasons behind that do come back, surprisingly often, to the factors Diamond cites.

    One of the best pieces of evidence for this is Diamond's successor book, Collapse, which is about societies around the world (mainly but not exclusively isolated from others). Collapse isn't as sweeping or compelling, but its case studies provide an ample set of backdrop evidence for supporting many of Guns' core ideas.

    Not a be-all, but a fine place to consider the sweep of human development....more info
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
    Great book filled with information that would benefit anyone interested in the how and why historical events occurred. It is even more than that and everyone should be required to read it....more info
  • Evil white men make the world a better place for everyone
    This poor pampered professor while struggling at his work strolling along a beach in New Guinea is posed the question as to why Eurasian cultures have succeeded with technological developments but others haven't. IN over 300 pages he struggles to present an answer that could be presented in one sentence.

    Its their BRAINS - they are wired differently

    This is not racist. Its clear there are many physiological differences amongst various races. Eurasians for whatever reason are compelled to invent technology. One could certainly argue that Africans have a superior rhythm center in their brain.
    The fact of the matter is the laws of physics are not relative. They work the same for everyone - nothing is stopping a non Eurasian from inventing something new based upon the fundamental and consistent laws of physics.

    Like most professors he is woefully out of touch with the common person. All he need to is spend an hour in a gear head shop to understand the driving force in the Eurasian mind to tinker with technology. Of course then you cant sell a book - I returned mine immediately and asked for a refund - RUBBISH ...more info
  • Guns Germs and Steel
    This is an amazing piece! Jared Diamond has done a great job..It is about
    facts and the process we as human beings have gone through. Therefore I do not believe there to be any bias in the book....more info
  • Marxist View on History
    What drives history and shapes human civilizations? This book suggests that geographic and environmental factors are largely the driving forces. This is is direct contrast to human factors, such as widely held ideas embodied in a society's culture.

    While environmental facts are not always inconsequential, the thesis that material factors trump human factors when it comes to defining the course of history is tragically wrong. What explains the flourishing of civilizations that occurred during the Renaissance in Western Europe? Did the environment drastically change or was it the fact that many of the leading intellectuals of Europe, such as Thomas Aquinas, influenced the culture to start valuing reason over blind faith? What causes civilizations such as modern day Japan, South Korea or Ireland to flourish despite not existing on resource-rich chunks of land? Why is Chile so much more prosperous than the rest of the nations in South America? Is it because Chile happens to have substantially more resources or is it because there is significantly more economic freedom there?

    More importantly, the "value" of an environment is a function of the ingenuity of its human inhabitants. Before chemists discovered the vital properties of anthracite coal or crude oil, these resources were nothing but a bunch of black rocks and black goo. No nation of savages, no matter how much coal they have under their land, will flourish unless if they learn how to exploit their surrounding resources. In other words, a human factor is undeniably essential.

    The only value from reading this book is that it recounts a substantial number of interesting historical events. However, you can obtain this information from other books. The incorrect thesis of this book devalues all of the interpretations of history contained within this book. I do not recommend this book at all.

    Lastly, why did I call this a "Marxist" view? Because the idea of history being driven by environmental and geographic factors is very similar to Marx's view of dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism views that social and economic changes are driven largely by material forces. I see no substantial difference between Diamond's thesis and this Marxist view....more info
  • Fantastic
    So many positive reviews have been written about this book that another review risks not saying anything material.

    However, this work is of such good quality and its findings are so profound that it merits yet another review.

    The basis of the book seeks to answer the question posed to Diamond by a friend from New Guinea, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

    Jared as a trained Geographer sets off to answer the question and the answer that he comes up with makes logical and intuitive sense to most everyone but which nobody had to date been able to articulate thoughtfully in a good book: biodiversity. As he explores the world, he discovers that after the last ice age the European continent had the right mix of flora, fauna, climate, ample food, four distinct seasons, natural resources like steel, germs, and size that when the extremely innovative and intelligent learning animal (humanity) showed up (well we were already there) but humanity was able and forced by climate/geography/population to make use of all of the resources available to him/her there. This allowed Europeans to break out from Europe and bring Cargo to the people of the Pacific Islands: people who did not have resources, pressure, beasts of burden, or geography to develop the civilization that Europeans were able to develop.

    The work is simply phenomenal. The book is wonderful in many respects because it brings all humans together as members of one big race that at some point in time rose to and adapted to colonize the entire planet and that this diversity and differences in all of us is valuable and that it should be cherished. After all, it was a man from New Guinea who stood up and asked this extremely profound question of Diamond. Clearly the man had time to contemplate this topic and it took someone like Diamond to chase down the answer.

    Impressive book all the way around....more info
  • Interesting but Lacking
    It is remarkable and disappointing that Diamond's attempt to discover reasons for industrialization and technological development in certain cultures skirts the history of MONEY....more info
  • No Book is More Important
    With over 1,000 reviews on Amazon it is quite unlikely you will read anything different in my review than all the other five star reviews. I must say that Jared Diamond has written an extraordinary book. The question he tackles with GGS is, "Why and how did wealth and power develop in some areas and not in others."

    Diamond concludes that wealth and power can be contributed to several factors: an East/West axis, domesticable plants and animals, this results in food surpluses and thus sedentary lifestyles which allow for specialization. Also, the domesticated large animals transfer diseases to a population, but due the sheer size of the population over time they will be able to develop immunity. Specialization then produces technology, writing, and political organization. In all this is why Eurasia was the region to conquer the Americas, Australia, etc.

    It takes no prior knowledge to understand anything in this book. Diamond informs the reader on everything he/she will need to know to understand GGS. As my title states, no book is more important than this one to understand how and why different countries developed guns, germs, and steel and other countries did not....more info
  • Great Discourse on How Societies have Evolved
    If you ever wondered how did societies get where they are today and why did others not evolve as much as others, this is your book. It puts to rest any preconceived notions regarding inferior races, etc and gives us the logic on why certain societies flourished and others did not. Highly informative but also well written and easy to read. ...more info
  • Destiny does not depend on skin color
    Jared Diamond offers a fascinating and compelling theory that it was environmental factors, such as the availability of domesticatable crops, and not purported variations in genetic intelligence, that enabled certain races of people to gain military superiority over other races of people throughout human history....more info
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel
    This is a very interesting, well-written, easy-to-read book. It answers my questions about why some groups of people developed advanced technology and others developed only primitive technology. It also answers the question: why do some cultures remain hunter-gatherers, even to this day? It explains the domestication of plants and animals and how the availability of these influenced the advancement of people. This book would definitely be of value to history buffs and educators....more info
  • Excellent breadth and scope of explanatory power
    This book has the amazing ability to explain the history of human societal development. It does not provide prescriptions for the future, but does an excellent job of helping to understand the past. A masterpiece of historical analysis and sure to become a classic. ...more info