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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (original 1997; edition 1999)

by Jared M. Diamond

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17,243252100 (4.13)456
Member:kingjon
Title:Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Authors:Jared M. Diamond
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (1999), Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Wishlist
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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1997)

Recently added byprivate library, INorris, coffeeNoSugar, tinysmash_, jlj, bjoelle5, KevinThibodeau, earens
  1. 130
    Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (infiniteletters)
  2. 112
    1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (VisibleGhost, electronicmemory)
  3. 51
    The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes (Oct326)
    Oct326: La tesi centrale del saggio di Diamond è che la causa dominante dei disuguali gradi di sviluppo tra popolazioni umane sia data dalle condizioni ambientali più o meno favorevoli. Il saggio di Landes ha un argomento un po' differente, e cioè il disuguale grado di sviluppo economico e di ricchezza tra popolazioni. Ma sulle cause di queste differenze è più articolato, e mette in rilievo l'importanza dei fattori culturali. È un punto di vista piuttosto diverso, e questo rende interessante il confronto tra le due opere.… (more)
  4. 40
    Maps of Time : An Introduction to Big History by David Christian (questbird)
    questbird: Big History is a multidisciplinary approach (like Diamond's) which integrates the origin of the universe, deep time, human prehistory and history.
  5. 40
    The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan (TomWaitsTables)
  6. 30
    Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark (infiniteletters)
  7. 74
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (Percevan)
  8. 41
    Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture by Marvin Harris (night_sky)
    night_sky: Marvin Harris does not have the same "take" on history as Jared Diamond, but if you're interested in other viewpoints (and Harris, to me, makes some incredibly good points) try Harris' book (any of his, in fact)
  9. 20
    The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by William H. McNeill (wildbill)
    wildbill: William McNeill chronicles the struggle between nomad and sedentary peoples in a book that continues the themes of Guns, Germs and Steel
  10. 20
    The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby (John_Vaughan)
  11. 42
    The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker (Percevan)
    Percevan: Both books are eminently throwing light on the big lines in human history
  12. 10
    Children of the Ice Age: How a Global Catastrophe Allowed Humans to Evolve by Steven M. Stanley (br77rino)
    br77rino: Children of the Ice Age is an excellent anthropological discussion of the link that became homo sapiens. Guns, Germs, and Steel covers the more recent territory of racial evolution within homo sapiens.
  13. 10
    The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes (Percevan)
  14. 10
    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade (IslandDave)
  15. 10
    From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun (MusicMom41)
    MusicMom41: Guns, Germs and Steel makes a great “prelude’ to Barzun’s book From Dawn to Decadence.
  16. 00
    Stolen Continents: The "New World" Through Indian Eyes by Ronald Wright (rakerman)
    rakerman: Also see Ronald Wright's Stolen Continents for another angle on the Americas.
  17. 00
    Four Thousand Years Ago by Geoffrey Bibby (nessreader)
  18. 00
    Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu (Serviette, longway)
  19. 00
    Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect by Paul R. Ehrlich (bookcrushblog)
  20. 00
    Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths (hohlwelt)
    hohlwelt: Complements very well with what Jared Diamond misses and vice versa.

(see all 23 recommendations)

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Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
Guns, Germs, And Steel, by Jared Diamond
★★★ and 1/2

Description: Why did 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 history's broadest patterns. Here, at last, is a world history's 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.
In A Sentence: A fascinating study with a lot of information crammed in
My Thoughts: I've been meaning to read this for years, ever since my anthropology professor mentioned it. I don't usually read non-fiction novels, though; despite the interesting subjects, I get bored with the tedious amounts of information and facts. Hence why this book took me a whole month to read.
This was a really interesting book, however. I love history, particularly ancient history. I also love archaeology and reading about the different societies and culture this world has. This book had it all: history, archaeology, anthropology, and biological anthropology. Jared Diamond made a valid argument regarding why some societies were able to conquer others. Basically, each society had to work with the resources that were available to them; if the plants and animals were easy to domesticate, and the people could benefit from domesticating them, then more often than not events led to domesticated local plants and animals. Domestication led to sedentary lifestyles, which in turn led to massive food production, diseases, and better opportunities for technological advancement. Geography, climate, and how isolated a society was also affected how domesticated plants and animals and technology would spread to other societies. I summed up the book in a few sentences here, but the science and research that led to this conclusion was really interesting. Plus, Jared Diamond doesn't spend a whole lot of time discussing the Europeans and how powerful they were. He instead discusses everyone, including other societies you hardly ever hear about, making this book very well rounded and very interesting.
There was a whole lot of information in the book however. Jared Diamond had to scrunch in about 13,000 years of world history into one book, as well as a lot of scientific and archaeological information. It was all great information, but it made for a very dense read. No wonder it took me so long!
Overall: If you love non-fiction, particularly historical nonfiction, this is a good book for you. If you're studying history in some type of college course, I would recommend this book as a complementary read. It's certainly worth a look, but prepare yourself for a whole lot of info. Jared Diamond does a great job making the facts reader-friendly, but there's still much to sift through. You have been warned. ( )
  Spirolim | Jan 13, 2016 |
Guns, Germs and Steel is the iconic 1998 work by Jared Diamond positing so clearly the argument that biogeographical factors are the determinant behind relative rates of progress and success among different human societies. His work argues in the very long-term it is ultimately biogeographic factors that are the ultimate cause of trends in human history. What Diamond has done is spell out effectively the seemingly obvious point that geography impacts a society, its success, and culture, and has advanced that idea into a generalised analysis of human history.

Diamond is in particular an expert on New Guinea. It shows. The work goes into extensive detail on Papuans as an interesting historical experiment to assess his theory. His assertion that Papuans are individually smarter than westerners is of course non-verifiable as it is largely only those with access to higher levels of education in the west that will cross paths with Papuans. Nevertheless it is indicative of the close relationship Diamond has with some of the cultures of Papua, especially the part not under the control of Indonesia.

Diamond begins his march through human history by asking the question from the noble savage - why is it Papuans did not develop the tools to conquer far flung parts of the world. Of course, actually they did. Diamond does not offer this obvious counterpoint but given Papuan peoples managed to claim the lands they now own means they must have been able to do some far-flung conquering of their own, just not on the same scale.

Diamond's answer to the question why some societies developed the tools for global conquest and others not is divided into proximate and ultimate causes. The proximate causes are initially described as Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is a punchy title but not the most accurate and Diamond moves on from it fairly quickly. Guns and Steel in particular are fairly interchangeable as they both represent advanced weapon technology. Through the later stages of the work, Diamond makes greater reference to political organisation rather than just sticking to his catchy trio.

The great example Diamond uses is the mortal blow inflicted on the Aztecs by the Spanish. The Aztecs really should have been able to put up much more of a fight against the Conquistadors but Diamond shows how the proximate factors of weaponry, other technology, and germs were able to wipe out a mighty empire. This example though is merely the step towards explaining the far more interesting assessment of ultimate causes.

Diamond's analysis of ancient history is fascinating. The well-known Fertile Crescent was of course the dawn of civilisation but what Diamond catalogues so well is the range of advantages that location had over everywhere else. The reason civilisation arose first there is because of the set of seeds worth growing. Diamond's analysis of the most productive seed groups suggests the Fertile Crescent was inevitably going to be the site of civilisation's birth. It is fascinating to see some of the tables of productive foods. Fascinating for instance that the British Isles offers just oats. Fascinating because oats remain a staple of British diet thousands of years later.

The idea of civilisation's spread through settled farming is of course obvious. Diamond takes that obvious point and applies it to the whole of human history. He charts the spread of societies and their food package. The spread of foods heads along east-west parallels rather than north-south. It makes complete sense because produce will not grow at different latitudes of temperature, climate, and season. This necessarily implies that transfer of food packages runs most easily across continents as in the spread from the Fertile Crescent to Europe rather than up and down continents as did not happen for instance in all of Africa.

Diamond takes this idea a step further by assessing that there is an east-west effect on technology transfer more generally. This is debatable and Diamond does not really show technology transfer beyond food as having a latitudinal effect. His examples are more of geographic barriers with the Isthmus of Panama and the Sahara Desert both being good reasons technology transferred so slowly or not at all.

Diamond does at times make some bizarre claims such as Neanderthals having made no impact on modern humans. The genetic record suggests otherwise. He also seems to have failed to have accounted for the re-populating of Africa by peoples who had already moved into Asia. Nevertheless his analysis is largely sound.

There is sometimes an agenda behind the analysis. Diamond is particularly keen to point out the failings of race-based theories of societal success. He takes on the most obvious example in the form of Aboriginal Australia. It is the hardest argument for those opposed to racism to make - that somehow the most backward socieities on Earth exist in the form they do next to advanced westernised Australia for reasons other than genetics. Diamond's analysis is effective in describing the ultimate causes. Australia was of course populated much later than the rest of the world and it has a terrible set of native food products. It is only the bringing of temperate food to the most temperate parts of Australia that Europeans have flourished. It is a convincing argument.

Diamond divides his book into four parts. Part One sets up the various theories being explored using examples to show how similar peoples, such as Polynesians on different islands, developed differently based on their biogeography. It is a great start and somewhat awe-inspiring to read it spelled out so clearly. Part two is about food development using examples of the availability of differently productive foods and domesticable animals. Why some types of animals are more domesticable than others of the same family is an area Diamond highlights for future research. As well as offering productivity gains, the animal link is important for Diamond's proximate conquest cause - germs which is a key aspect of part three along with some fairly bland writings about the differences between tribes and bands.

Part four is the conclusion. It is the history of different continents following Diamond's theory. Unfortunately it is by far the weakest part of the book and exposes its major flaws. Diamond took a surprisingly non-Euro-centric approach to explaining the world. For some reason more than half of the world's population is lumped together as Eurasia. The analysis of the rest of the world is not always great. The chapter on why China became Chinese is remarkably limited. The chapter on Africa is fairly good, showing the Bantu expansion as a good case study explaining why the Bantu societies triumphed over Khoisan and Pygmy but could only go as far as their food package could take them.

The chapter on the Americas leaves open the most obvious question. Why did they not develop boats? Polynesians boated to extraordinary lengths yet Meso-Americans failed to develop seafaring capability to navigate along a coastline in ways which could have led to contact between Meso-American and South American states. It is not a particularly difficult thing to do - the Celts of course having moved up from Iberia to the British Isles exactly that way.

Diamond begins to address some of the criticisms of his work in a well-crafted epilogue. This was presumably written after the first publication when the most glaring flaws came to light. In particular he posits a believable theory about why China has not been the dominant force in human history. Frankly China should always be the leading player but has never managed to achieve that position. Diamond offers a new idea not present in his earlier discussion - that societal formation itself is determined by biogeography. Europe is divided into smaller States because of its geography which means more competition for ideas and much less possibilty of turning off progress. China is stilted by its dominance of its own expansive landmass and the centralisation of power in the hands of just one who can turn off progress.

The epilogue argument is fascinating because it develops Diamond's theory to effectively begin identifying that it is geography that determines how a society works. This is now a well-regarded and much used idea which can explain how peoples in different parts of the world can develop similar proclivities because of having the same kinds of terrain. The great martial races of the world are of course all from tough places, mostly mountainous ranges.

There are of course areas for development from Diamond's theory. Most obviously why advanced western socieities stopped trying to conquer the rest of the world after World War II. Equally the role of the individual in history must play some role. Diamond suggests it was inevitable that power would shift from the Fertile Crescent west but that is only an analysis of what happened without it being truly inevitable. Would it really be inevitable that Europe would rise had Sparta not defeated the Persian invasion, or indeed had Sparta later defeated Athens? Would the global system of an international rules-based global order be in place had the Axis powers sued for peace in 1944? Such butterfly effects cannot surely have had no impact on the longue duree.

For all the potential critiques of Diamond's work though it is a fabulous piece. It may be turgid at times with the repitition of phrases and argument but it is a defining work in the now widely accepted notion that the environment shapes the socities that inhabit it, and that the success or failure of societies depend on the resources they can draw from the place in which they live. ( )
1 vote Malarchy | Jan 4, 2016 |
Guns, Germs and Steal can best be described as a world history textbook. Instead of being separated,by time period it was organized by geographical location of civilization. This glorified textbook is dreary, incredibly boring and lacks all excitement. That is if not accompanied by note taking or another method to keep the reader awake and more importantly alive, it serves little purpose besides, being educational. The novel was filled with a great amount of information, dates, cultural explanations and historical context. But, this doesn't draw from the fact that it is exclusively read for educational purpose and not one's enjoyment. Unless your purpose is to advance you knowledge in world history, which it excels in, this book is little more than a cure to insomnia. ( )
  Mikayla_Hubner | Nov 3, 2015 |
history, geology, agriculture, civilization, society, religion, evolution, hunter, gatherer, culture, progress, weapons
  aidenella | Sep 7, 2015 |
Jared Diamond has pulled off a startling amalgamation of Bill Bryson's 'Short History of Nearly Everything' and Jacob Bronowski's 'The Ascent of Man'. He writes with great clarity and illuminates a number of turning points while seeking to explain why some societies around the world achieved ascendancy over others.

Diamond's principal hypothesis is that until around 11,000 BC all of the fledgling societies scattered around the globe were on a roughly equal footing, struggling to get by as hunter-gatherers. From that time onwards, different groups started to move towards a more structured mode of agriculture featuring the domestication of livestock and the ability to regulate arable crops. Throughout the book he stops to ask why it was that the European nations colonised Afria, Asia and the Americas, rather than the other way around. Why were those European states able to establish their supremacy?

The dreadful impact of diseases prevalent among Europeans upon the new societies that they encountered throughout the New World and Australasia is well documented. Diamond asserts that some of that contagion was initially contracted from the livestock that formed the basis of their sustaining agriculture. Diamond explores these issues with a mixture of history, archaeology and anthropology, drawing evidence from all around the world.

These are not areas that I know much, if anything, about, and I found Diamond's book completely engrossing. I might question some of his conclusions, but they are all soundly constructed, and liable to provoke lively debate. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Aug 29, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
In ''Guns, Germs, and Steel,'' an ambitious, highly important book, Jared Diamond asks: How did Pizarro come to be at Cajamarca capturing Atahualpa, instead of Atahualpa in Madrid capturing King Charles I? Why, indeed, did Europeans (and especially western Europeans) and Asians always triumph in their historical conquests of other populations? Why weren't Native Americans, Africans and aboriginal Australians instead the ones who enslaved or exterminated the Europeans?
 
Jared Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope: a history of the world in less than 500 pages which succeeds admirably, where so many others have failed, in analysing some of the basic workings of cultural process. . . It is willing to simplify and to generalize; and it does reach conclusions, about ultimate as well as proximate causes, that carry great conviction, and that have rarely, perhaps never, been stated so coherently or effectively before. For that reason, and with few reservations, this book may be welcomed as one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years.
added by jlelliott | editNature, Colin Renfrew (Mar 27, 1997)
 

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jared Diamondprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cavalli-Sforza, Francescosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cavalli-Sforza, Lucasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi L.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Civalleri, LuigiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansson, IngerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Esa, Kariniga, Omwai, Paran, Sauakari, Wiwor, and all my other New Guinea friends and teachers - masters of a difficult environment.
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This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. (Preface to the Paperback Edition)
We all know that history has proceeded very differently for peoples from different parts of the globe. (Prologue to the Hardback Edition)
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Mobilisant des disciplines aussi diverses que la génétique ,l la biologie moléculaire , l'écologie l'écologies des comportements , l'épidémiologie , la linguistique , et l'histoire des civilisations , à l'ère de la globalisaton , Jared Diamond vous propose opportunément cet essai , en tout point singulier ,sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les sociétés .
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393061310, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:33 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Why did 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 history's 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. 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. It is a work rich in dramatic revelations that will fascinate readers even as it challenges conventional wisdom.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

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