Guns, Germs, and Steel Kindle Fire by Jared Diamond
Click Here to Download the Book In this artful, informative, and delightful book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion --as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war --and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California's Gold Medal.
Reviews I read 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' a few years ago (actually because some guy in the Interchange (ESL) book said it was easiest to read in a foreign country). In it, Paul Kennedy explained the reasons for the course history took over the last 500 years. Specifically, he described two main forms of power, economic and military and the need for a careful balance of the two. It was not an easy read for me but large portions of it were interesting and convinced me to research further. A much easier read was Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond. The two works are similar in that they try to answer why some nations and peoples have been more successful than others. Diamond's book, though, finishes where Kennedy's starts and starts ten thousand or more years ago. The first subject Diamond discusses is that he is not interested in racial arguments. Over the past few hundred years, Europeans have been more successful, but not because they are white or special. Indeed, he suggests that, on average, the New Guineans may be more intelligent than Caucasians. He gave three criteria for a region's success. availability of suitable agricultural crops, availability of suitable livestock, and the general axis of the continent. The latter affects the spread of agricultural crops and technological information. The first two surprised me but he explained his reasoning clearly. Very few plants are all that useful as food items for humans. Many of the best ones were originally found in the Mid-East. I think that's right, he describes it as the Fertile Crescent. Few large mammals are useful for human transportation or farm power either. Most such animals (horses, sheep, cattle) were found...you guessed it, in the Fertile Crescent. The axis argument was harder for me to swallow. North and South America are relatively narrow, east-west and the north-south axis is not useful for transferring agriculture nor ideas. The Fertile Crescent is part of Eurasia, the largest continuous east-west space. The central idea of same latitude/same climate is a good start but hard for me to accept. The east-west axis in Canada or the US is about 3000 km, more than most tribesmen or neolithic travelers would think of going. It took me a while to accept that different cultures could cycle information East and west without much travel by individuals. Next, his examples of north/south obstacles seemed solid and believable. The desert region of Mexico and the so very-narrow bottleneck of Panama prevented Northern temperate crops from reaching Southern temperate regions and South American pack
animals (llamas) from reaching the north. The examples I connected with best were his island examples. His descriptions of various Polynesian islands and their measurable differences were compelling and showed real differential success.
If all men are created equal, then why are some cultures so much more technologically and economically advanced than others? Racists have always made me feel uneasy because, while I have never been impressed by their attitudes, I have also felt powerless to change them. This book was my first exposure to an explanation of cultural inequity founded -- ultimately -- on something other than race. If your tribe lives in a land with a mild climate and fertile soil, with plants and animals that can be domesticated, you will do better over time than a tribe that lives in a less favorable place. If your society is geographically isolated, you will be invaded less (and thus have less incentive to invent new technologies to defend yourself), but you will also have fewer opportunities to trade goods and knowledge: your society will progress more slowly than one more exposed to (and connected to) others. I am not a cultural anthropologist nor am I a serious student of social issues, so I cannot comment on the scholarly worthiness of this book. However, as a curious layman, I found this to be an extraordinarily illuminating book, not least as a commentary on the overwhelming influence of context on outcomes.
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