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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human…

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

by Jared Diamond

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
16,663236106 (4.14)436
  1. 120
    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
    The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan (one-horse.library)
  5. 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.
  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 American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby (John_Vaughan)
  10. 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
  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
    From dawn to decadence : 500 years of western cultural life : 1500 to the present by Jacques Barzun (MusicMom41)
    MusicMom41: Guns, Germs and Steel makes a great “prelude’ to Barzun’s book From Dawn to Decadence.
  13. 10
    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade (IslandDave)
  14. 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.
  15. 00
    Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu (Serviette, longway)
  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
    A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright (thebookpile)
  18. 00
    The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes (Percevan)
  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 22 recommendations)


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» See also 436 mentions

English (218)  Italian (6)  Dutch (5)  Swedish (3)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (235)
Showing 1-5 of 218 (next | show all)
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?

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 |
Showing 1-5 of 218 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:51 -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)

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2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393317552, 0393061310


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