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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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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 |
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 |
An epic piece of multi-disciplinary research powerful enough to make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about the human race. ( )
  dele2451 | Oct 6, 2013 |
Thank you for communicating relations between people and technology. ( )
  Michael.Bradham | Sep 2, 2013 |
how we got to be the way we are, well told even though only one theory ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 28, 2013 |
Smart, though presented a bit mechanically. Brilliant book though. Brilliant theory. ( )
  matthewbloome | May 19, 2013 |
[guns, germs & steel] Jared Diamond (not counting this one, didn’t get past the preface)

So I read a few pages of this book then decided to throw it in the bin. Not pass it on in any way. Just Dump it.

In the first paragraph - “Why did history unfold differently on different continents? In case this question immediately makes you shudder at the thought you are about to read a racist treatise, you aren’t” As Charlie Brooker pointed out on the 10 O’clock show recently someone introducing themselves as “Not a Racist” is a bit suspicious. Still that wasn’t what made me throw this book at the wall. A few pages later we have this: “New Guineans may have come to be smarter than Westerners. European and American children spend much of their time being passively entertained by TV” hmm that old saw of TV rots the brain, for which evidence is ambiguous at best and many studies actually say that moderate TV viewing actually increases intelligence. But no, Mr Diamond has obviously decided the goggle box is the Devil’s device as a few sentences on he says “irreversible mental stunting associated with reduced childhood stimulation” (the TV being an anti-stimulation device of course) and “mental abilities in New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners, and they surely are superior in escaping the devastating developmental disadvantages that most children in industrialised societies now grow up” (my italics) Oh Really? Can you say sweeping generalisation without any evidence Mr Diamond? And the reason he thinks New Guineans “may have come to be smarter than Westerners”? Well apparently it’s because they live a hand to mouth style existence struggling to find food (malnutrition in children is actually a cause of mental retardation isn’t it?) and fighting tribal wars so the stupid is killed off before it can breed and in Western society we’ve apparently conquered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs beyond the find food, find shelter level or as Mr. Diamond puts it “Europeans have for thousands of years been living in densely populated societies with central governments, police, and judiciaries where murders were relatively uncommon and a state of war was the exception rather than the rule.” Oh Really? Thousands of years you say, exactly what history books have you been reading Mr Diamond?

This book gets an average of 4.15 stars on LT?!? Most people say it is a must read (there are few thoughtful reviews (from people who actually read the book) pointing out much larger flaws than the ones I’ve highlighted above, and apparently Diamond, a non-historian, tells historians that they’ve been doing history wrong!

It was such an important book that not only is there an abridged version there is also a reading companion, a documentary series AND it won the Pulitzer? My flabber is well and truly gasted

And that’s probably the longest review I’ve done for 10 pages worth of reading! ( )
8 vote psutto | May 17, 2013 |
Classic book which attempts to answer the question of why did white europeans conquer the americas and not the other way around? Hint: it has little, if anything, to do with inherent vices or virtues of europeans or indigenous americans. ( )
  gkonopas | Apr 19, 2013 |
No, don't just watch the video of the book. Read it, though it is repetitious, its message is worth engraving in your brain. Why do we have so much "stuff", when others don't? ( )
  kday_working | Apr 7, 2013 |
Interesting, yes, but entirely too in-depth for my taste. Listening made it a little more like an interesting, but very long radio program. I'm looking forward to the discussion over this one. ( )
  JessieP73 | Apr 6, 2013 |
p87
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
A very analytical observational approach to unraveling history that had very interesting insights. There was a lot of repetition that I assume was meant to make sure all i's were dotted and all t's were crossed for anyone looking to tear down his arguments. I listened to the unabridged audio, but might recommend the abridged version for that reason. ( )
  anguinea | Apr 4, 2013 |
Posted on my blog (http://aboutthestory.wordpress.com/)

Title: Guns, Germs, and Steel
Author: Jared Diamond
Hours (audiobook): ~5 abridged copy
Summary: For anyone who has ever wondered why the heck the European and Asian civilizations were able to make ships and conquer other civilizations, this book tries to figure that out. A lot of the problems of today’s world comes from the inequities of the civilizations of the past, and at first blush it can be confusing to students of history why the Spanish made ships and guns before the people of South America. Diamond explains that a lot of the development of history’s civilizations depended on the domestic-able plants and animals in the area and the fact that Europe and Asia have a major axis that goes East to West where as Africa and the Americas are oriented North to South. This actually makes a big difference in terms of how easily crops can be adapted from neighbors. The major geographic barriers also play a role in how easily ideas and inventions can get spread between cultures. All of this paints a fairly convincing story of why people in one area progressed so much faster than others, giving us the world we currently have.

As stated above, I only listened to the abridged audiobook of this book because that is what I had available, but I found the audiobook still very enlightening, unlike most abridged books that I’ve encountered. The full paper book is quite long, and so if you want an idea of the argument but not all the gory details, I do recommend the abridged version. In any case, I think this book makes a very important argument because it presents evidence that it wasn’t something special about the genes of the people who became the conquerors, it was simply the luck of the land that they happened to inherit.

More reviews at http://www.onstarshipsanddragonwings.com/ ( )
  anyaejo | Apr 2, 2013 |
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