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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human…
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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997)

by Jared Diamond

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Showing 1-25 of 227 (next | show all)
The author gives a well researched factual account of how the European continent managed to conquer Africa and North America. The luck of beneficial geographic placement and easily domesticated species gave them the greater competitive edge - and explains so much about how the world was explored and subsequently colonized. Very interesting book - National Geographic did a dvd companion piece that was good also. ( )
  Heather_Arrington | May 31, 2015 |
I know it won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. The premise of the book in the reviews I read sounded interesting. But I just found the book dull to read and I couldn't finish it. ( )
  KamGeb | May 20, 2015 |
This was a very insightful book that provided plausible theories that account for things I had wondered myself about human societies. I had always wondered why it was Europeans who created empires around the globe as opposed to other cultures. Also, I was aware that there were no beasts of burden in North America and that played a role in hindering technological advancement. But the author expounded on this and other factors in a way that painted a pretty clear picture on the discrepancies that separate geographically distinct societies around the world. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
Loved this book on the first read. Have been wanting to reread and found a great bargain on a used copy. I would have preferred a hardcover but, as long as I have the book, it's all good. ( )
1 vote kwkslvr | Apr 16, 2015 |
Couldn't read this thoroughly enough to judge fairly, but it seemed heavy on data and weak on careful unbiased analysis, to me. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
作者以地理、生物因素,闡述文明發展不平等的原因。內容相當具說服力。是瞭解人類文明發展的必讀之書。​ ( )
  windhongtw | Apr 1, 2015 |
This is a fantastic book!
  kimtaylorblakemore | Mar 17, 2015 |
This is a fantastic book!
  kimtaylorblakemore | Mar 17, 2015 |
A fabulous book that does justice to a huge and controversial field, covering evolution, paleobiology, genetics and early human history. The breadth and depth of this work is staggering- this book is not for the fainthearted as it is long, very detailed yet thankfully very readable. ( )
  martensgirl | Feb 5, 2015 |
Fascinating and captivating read. I would have read it a lot faster if not for selecting it as my 'exercise reading matter', meaning it only got attention in short bursts!

Jared takes on the question of why some parts of the world kept to dominate others, and not vice versa, from a historically scientific standpoint, looking at food production and the effect it has on just about everything else - like the innovations of technology, society, politics and so forth. Why did Eurasia serve as a better platform for so many factors than the Americas, Africa or Australia?

I found myself re-reading sections sometimes because of the revelations therein, or mulling over the concepts at length long after I'd inserted my bookmark and put the book down. Jared asks so many questions I have never considered before, and yet in his consideration of them have found myself wishing I'd applied myself more in my own studies!

Something as simple as why did Chinese political unity serve as a poorer platform for dominance than the fractured political mishmash of Europe, despite the Chinese people have piles of technologies and societal advances so long before those of West Eurasia? (well, I say simple, which it isn't... but after reading it, it seems like such a simple explanation).

Loved reading this - grappling with the impact of wild plants and potentially domesticated animals on the progress of world. Considering the roles of isolation, geographic orientation, language, and so many other factors. My eyes have been really opened, and I appreciate it! ( )
  PaulBaldowski | Jan 24, 2015 |
Non è solo un libro; è un compendio di conoscenza, un mondo dove le discipline scientifiche si incontrano e spiegano "La Storia". E ci si rende conto che le inutili ore passate ad imparare le battaglie di Magonza, le dinastie dei re tebani o gli incastri della corte normanna sono molto più che inutili: sono fuorvianti. In queste 400 pagine, che in tre mesi faticosamente ho finito di leggere, c'e' invece tutto quello che può servire per capire perchè il mondo è quello che è, perchè le relazioni tra i popoli sono quello che sono, e perchè un agricoltore è, in fondo in fondo, assai più pericoloso di un cacciatore. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
So far an incredible book...This book basically asks the question why is it that some races, peoples, and ethnicities have far outpaced others in terms of technological achievement, understanding, and civilization?

Chapter 1-Up to the starting line
The great leap forward happens about 40,000 years ago. Man himself emerges only about 100k years ago, diverging evolutionarily from Neandertal then. Neandertal and Cro-Magnon (first modern man) coeval in Europe.
Neandertal went extinct likely from being out competed by Cro-Magnon, by 40,000 years ago, humans have populated much of the easter hemisphere (Eurasia, Australia) having arisen from Africa.
The origin of the great leap forward remains controversial - did it happen simultaneously and in parallel globally, or did it happen in Africa, and then disperse out? At about the great leap forward large mammalian and large fauna extinction coincides with Man's appearance and technological prowess. Such extinction likely attributed to the docility of animals to humans because no previous encounters with Man.
Human colonization of the new world happens between 16000 and 11000 B.C. from human migration across the Bering Straights of Alaska. Two early sites, Clovis (ll000 BC) and Meadowbrook (16000 BC) argue for two different colonizations. Does having settled and occupied a land region (like a continent) confer a "head" start in civilizational advancement, if Eurasia possessed humanity far longer than say the polynesian islands or the New World?

Chapter 2 - A natural experiment of history
Human expansion into the polynesian islands exemplifies an experiment of how geography influences culture and advancement; Moari's invade and slaughter other islanders, who two generations prior, were from the same land - in essence, were the same people. Geography creates political, economic, and cultural seperation.
Each successive polynesian island outward from the pacific rim, had different geographies and climates, imposing on settlers different agricultural, political, military, and cultural philosophies
Geographies that imposed subsistance living fostered communitarian, distributive, and peaceful approaches to culture; geographies supportive of intensie farming enabled specialized societies that were heirarchical, mercantile, specialized, and militarized.
Conquest becomes a function of resource acquisition to support political and economic sustainability.

Chapter 3 - Collision at Cajamarca
Pizzaro captures and kills the Inca king, and conquers the Incas with ease - virtually no loss of life, despite being vastly outnumbered and being in "hostile territory" - how is that possible?
Spanish were not interested in negotiated outcomes, but religious zealotry to convert perceived "heathens" to Christianity; never really any intent to convert for the sake of enlightenment, but for enslavement and pillaging.
Spanish were successful in conquering Incas and Aztecs (to the north) because of several proximate causes:
Horses and military superiority of weaponry based on steel; horses had never been encountered in the New World until European introduction. Horses were trained for war, gave height, weight and speed advantage over footmen. Steel and metallurgy allowed for swords and guns.
Infectious disease; European immunity built on centuries of pestilence and disease killed millions of Indians who never encountered such disease like small pox. Disease spread ahead of European expansion inland so that many societies were weakened or destroyed. Interestingly, many Old World diseases like malaria inhibited EU conquest of Africa and Asia.
Political astuteness and understanding of human nature, as a function of centralized political organization
Literacy as a mode of creating and transmitting competitive intelligence over other peoples; EU learned quickly about tactical success over the indians because of writings that were disseminated over Spain. Indians were misinformed and uninformed because prior encounters with Europeans were undocumented and not communicated.
European maritime technology; the ability to travel en masse quickly and in strength from one location to another.
Question: why did all of the above not happen to New World Indians? And why did they not conquer the old world?
THE RISE OF FARMER POWER

Chapter 4- Farmer power
plant and animal domestication intensified population growth
Food surpluses and animal transportation enabled settlement, political centralization, social stratification, and economically complex technologically savvy societies
Domestication in Eurasia explains why empire, steel, and literacy arose there
Weaponization of animals, horses and camels gave military prowess over those societies where domestication did not occur.

Chapter 5- histories haves and have nots
Food production, animal domestication and agriculture occurred DeNovo in only half a dozen locations globally- each independent from the others.
Occurred on each of the major continents, and temporally distinct from each other
First in SW Asia and China (8500-8000 BC), then two thousand years later in the US
Outside of the six or so locales, food was imported to other locales with founder crops and animals.
Other locales either were invaded by other farmers bringing founder crops, or through trade, or through duplicating what had been done at other locales. E.g. Egypt seems to have adopted SW Asian crops and animals in lieu of hunting and gathering. ( )
  inasrullah64 | Sep 26, 2014 |
Diamond's main focus is answering the question of why some societies developed in ways that others didn’t. Why were Europeans able to easily overrun native peoples in the Americas? Why did the peoples of Europe and Asia build densely populated cities with complex systems of government and advanced technologies while other groups remained primitive hunter-gatherers? Why did some develop written languages and not others?

He flatly rejects racist claims of superiority based on skin color or race and instead argues that geography and biogeography played a central role in creating the modern-day haves and have-nots. While Diamond briefly goes back to the beginnings of human development and explains its spread out of Africa, the book is mostly about explaining why some groups made the leap from nomadic hunter-gatherer to sedentary (stay in one place) farming cultures. Such a change allowed for denser populations, better nutrition, and advances in agriculture and crop and animal domestication.

And domesticated crops and animals is a big factor in why modern civilization has its origins in Eurasia. The area known as the Fertile Crescent had more wild plants and animals *available* for domestication than anywhere else. Domesticated animals also provided labor that drove further advances and gave advantages in war (especially the horse). These factors contributed to centralized governments and written languages and ever larger concentrations of people. But it was this combination of high density cities and domestic animals that created the most effective tool of conquest: germs.

It's hard to summarize such a far-reaching and encompassing book like this, but it does a good job of explaining the grand scope of history understandably. This is not to say it's an "easy" read, however, as it required a careful reading. It's also not without detractors, and a few online reviews had very technical complaints. I'm no expert in such history, although I was a little bothered by the *tone* of the book sometimes. He rightly disparages "white racists" who claim racial superiority but he pushes the opposite too far and occasionally engages in his own subtle racism. When he talks of the spread of white Europeans in the Americas he uses the words "kill" and "infect" but when he discusses the spread of Bantus in Africa he uses words like "expand" and "engulf," and then downplays the word "engulf" with a lengthy paragraph softening it. There were a few times I thought his logic was weak and evidence thin, like when he claims New Guinea natives are smarter than Europeans but cites only his opinion as evidence. Still, I found it to be an interesting and enlightening book, and it gave me a lot to think about.

(This review is modified from my 5/22/12 blog post at bookworm-dad.blogspot.com) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Diamond's main focus is answering the question of why some societies developed in ways that others didn’t. Why were Europeans able to easily overrun native peoples in the Americas? Why did the peoples of Europe and Asia build densely populated cities with complex systems of government and advanced technologies while other groups remained primitive hunter-gatherers? Why did some develop written languages and not others?

He flatly rejects racist claims of superiority based on skin color or race and instead argues that geography and biogeography played a central role in creating the modern-day haves and have-nots. While Diamond briefly goes back to the beginnings of human development and explains its spread out of Africa, the book is mostly about explaining why some groups made the leap from nomadic hunter-gatherer to sedentary (stay in one place) farming cultures. Such a change allowed for denser populations, better nutrition, and advances in agriculture and crop and animal domestication.

And domesticated crops and animals is a big factor in why modern civilization has its origins in Eurasia. The area known as the Fertile Crescent had more wild plants and animals *available* for domestication than anywhere else. Domesticated animals also provided labor that drove further advances and gave advantages in war (especially the horse). These factors contributed to centralized governments and written languages and ever larger concentrations of people. But it was this combination of high density cities and domestic animals that created the most effective tool of conquest: germs.

It's hard to summarize such a far-reaching and encompassing book like this, but it does a good job of explaining the grand scope of history understandably. This is not to say it's an "easy" read, however, as it required a careful reading. It's also not without detractors, and a few online reviews had very technical complaints. I'm no expert in such history, although I was a little bothered by the *tone* of the book sometimes. He rightly disparages "white racists" who claim racial superiority but he pushes the opposite too far and occasionally engages in his own subtle racism. When he talks of the spread of white Europeans in the Americas he uses the words "kill" and "infect" but when he discusses the spread of Bantus in Africa he uses words like "expand" and "engulf," and then downplays the word "engulf" with a lengthy paragraph softening it. There were a few times I thought his logic was weak and evidence thin, like when he claims New Guinea natives are smarter than Europeans but cites only his opinion as evidence. Still, I found it to be an interesting and enlightening book, and it gave me a lot to think about.

(This review is modified from my 5/22/12 blog post at bookworm-dad.blogspot.com) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Diamond's main focus is answering the question of why some societies developed in ways that others didn’t. Why were Europeans able to easily overrun native peoples in the Americas? Why did the peoples of Europe and Asia build densely populated cities with complex systems of government and advanced technologies while other groups remained primitive hunter-gatherers? Why did some develop written languages and not others?

He flatly rejects racist claims of superiority based on skin color or race and instead argues that geography and biogeography played a central role in creating the modern-day haves and have-nots. While Diamond briefly goes back to the beginnings of human development and explains its spread out of Africa, the book is mostly about explaining why some groups made the leap from nomadic hunter-gatherer to sedentary (stay in one place) farming cultures. Such a change allowed for denser populations, better nutrition, and advances in agriculture and crop and animal domestication.

And domesticated crops and animals is a big factor in why modern civilization has its origins in Eurasia. The area known as the Fertile Crescent had more wild plants and animals *available* for domestication than anywhere else. Domesticated animals also provided labor that drove further advances and gave advantages in war (especially the horse). These factors contributed to centralized governments and written languages and ever larger concentrations of people. But it was this combination of high density cities and domestic animals that created the most effective tool of conquest: germs.

It's hard to summarize such a far-reaching and encompassing book like this, but it does a good job of explaining the grand scope of history understandably. This is not to say it's an "easy" read, however, as it required a careful reading. It's also not without detractors, and a few online reviews had very technical complaints. I'm no expert in such history, although I was a little bothered by the *tone* of the book sometimes. He rightly disparages "white racists" who claim racial superiority but he pushes the opposite too far and occasionally engages in his own subtle racism. When he talks of the spread of white Europeans in the Americas he uses the words "kill" and "infect" but when he discusses the spread of Bantus in Africa he uses words like "expand" and "engulf," and then downplays the word "engulf" with a lengthy paragraph softening it. There were a few times I thought his logic was weak and evidence thin, like when he claims New Guinea natives are smarter than Europeans but cites only his opinion as evidence. Still, I found it to be an interesting and enlightening book, and it gave me a lot to think about.

(This review is modified from my 5/22/12 blog post at bookworm-dad.blogspot.com) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
An important and grounded perspective on essential questions of human history as natural history. Diamond's work here is as important to Cultural Studies as it is to Anthropology, Political Science, Art, Law, Religion, and Biology. ( )
  pilastr | Jul 31, 2014 |
This a lively book with an analysis of human society that I would call "Biologist provides a determinist taxonomy for Human progress." While making me wonder for a moment what our definitions of culture and progress really are, Mr. Diamond did get a very large number of people talking about the nature of human society, especially in our modern web-woven world. Power to him for that. I'd say that he's not Toynbee, but he has a paradigm that fits several stages in the evolution of our present world-view. I find it about half-way up to the crow's nest of real vision about humanity. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 29, 2014 |
A sensible and entertaining look at why the West has come to dominate recent world history. ( )
  ehines | Jul 7, 2014 |
Great in-depth look at how humans spread over the plant and why some groups prospered and others failed. ( )
1 vote vdunn | Apr 30, 2014 |
Makes you think, in entirely new directions, and there is no prize above that for an author. ( )
  thejazzmonger | Apr 21, 2014 |
A very good book, with fascinating and convincing concepts, somewhat marred (particularly towards the end) by excessive repetition. It seems he took the advice to "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them" a little too much to heart. The last two chapters, in particular, replicate his arguments about the east-west expanse of Eurasia being one of the major factors in its quick advance almost word-for-word - between the chapters, and from the early presentation of the idea and the more detailed discussion of it in the middle of the book (several times, with different supporting evidence). It got positively boring, which is not what I expected from the earlier parts of the book. I'm not sure I precisely agree with him - wish there were more controls, like another east-west expanse (apparently Australia doesn't count because it's too small). It's awfully easy to find reasons why things turned out the way they did - what's hard is determining the real reasons. Diamond presents good arguments for his chosen factors, and they seem reasonable at least at the grand-sweep level of detail he presents, but I'd like to see more evidence and more possibilities. Why did every continent except Eurasia lose most of its large fauna at the end of the Ice Age? He suggests it's because the Eurasian animals had had more contact with man and knew to avoid him (in a single mention early on - after that the fact of the extinctions is accepted without discussing the why). It may be that we'll never know the answer, or there is no answer - just chance. Diamond, at the very least, raised some very good questions, and knocked holes in quite a few racist arguments. Interesting, and I may reread - but if I do, I think I'll skim the last few chapters at most, and possibly skip them entirely. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Mar 10, 2014 |
One of those books where I think, if everyone read this the world might really be a better place. ( )
  LynleyS | Feb 8, 2014 |
A good book, I throurly enjoied his way of thinking and ansering a question, simple as it was. The focus on south-east aisa was a focus on a area of the world frenquently passed over until european arrival.

5/5 stars ( )
  Colin5038 | Feb 4, 2014 |
Take after finishing - good information well documented. An antidote to racialist thought. But very hard to get through. ( )
  dcornwall | Jan 11, 2014 |
Diamond explicates his premise that society’s development in the world followed a single pattern dependent upon factors of geography, geology, and the availability of natural resources that could be domesticated and more easily utilized, leading to sedentary populations overtaking hunter-gatherer ones. The key to advancement is the accumulation of food stores beyond subsistence levels within a tribe/clan, achieved by domesticating cereals (largely) and beasts suitable for burden and transportation.

From that state, populations rapidly expand; bureaucracy, specialists, and a standing military arise; writing and technology develop. Concomitantly, with increasing population density and the proximity of domesticated animals, germs that elicit epidemic diseases proliferate. The end result is that technology produces guns, high population densities produce germs capable of overwhelming unexposed societies, and contending population centers produce innovative technology (steel).

The civilization that stays ahead in those three areas predominates. Thus advancement has nothing to do with race, only abundance, adaptability, and timing.

Diamond quickly establishes a formula to develop his thesis that rapidly becomes repetitive and predictable. The book could have been half its length by simply applying his reasoning formula to each title topic once, offering archaeological and linguistic evidence to support examples from history that illustrate each, bring up some troubling apparent exceptions and dismiss those, and wind up (as he does in the book) with “where do we go from here” speculation.

Why GGS won a Pulitzer, I don’t know. Personal, and admittedly insightful, anecdotes about New Guineans are not enough to make the book prize-worthy. There is no artistry in the writing and the content is largely common sense connections that I’m sure I’m not the only one who had made already. ( )
  Limelite | Oct 7, 2013 |
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