Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Why are some human societies more advanced than others? It's a question that, well into the 20th century, was most often answered in racist terms. Naturally, it was thought, some people developed better technology than others because they were smarter. Diamond tears into such assumptions, making a persuasive case that human technological and cultural advancement have little to do with comparative intelligence, and lot to do with local conditions that put some cultures (or at least their neighbors) on a technological pathway a lot earlier than others. Diamond traces the ultimate keys for the shift from pre-modern to modern back to the areas of agriculture and animal domestication, which, as he explains, would have unlocked a succession of other innovations in centuries to follow. For people who ended a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settled down, the mere fact of one being in one place would have led to a host of other possibilities, such as increased tool use, the development of plant and animal husbandry, the specialization of jobs and religion, the centralization of government and the rise of an administrative class, the development of language, etc, etc.
Diamond explains in (sometimes boring) detail the many disadvantages that the continents of Africa, Australia, and the two Americas had as places for civilization to develop, such as a lack of domesticable flora and fauna, a difficulty in transferring lifestyles between north-south climate zones, and a lack of suitable geography. He points out cases in which African, American, and Australasian cultures progressed as far as was achievable for anyone in their circumstances, and observes that Europe’s disunity compared to China was actually an asset, though China had had a more advanced civilization and had given Europe a number of innovations, as did the Middle East. Then, of course, there is the all-important germs factor -- Europeans in their urban centers were exposed to a variety of pathogens, which were so instrumental in the decimation of New World Indians.
I’m aware that there are (somewhat controversial) books that seek to understand the rise of civilization in terms of genes, rather than geography, and you might consider Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn for that viewpoint. Grains of plausible truth there, but I found Diamond's thesis more convincing. Societies adapt more easily than genes.
I consider GGS an important work because it goes all the way back to human prehistory in establishing the chain of causes that brought about modern civilization, providing many compelling, illustrative refutations of the “genes are destiny” hypothesis. Yes, as some readers have complained, it's true that Diamond favors the distant past and glosses over a lot significant developments in more modern times. However, I don't think that really matters. GGS is a book about ultimate causes, not secondary ones. That is, it seeks to explain what the recently dominant societies of the world have in common in their long-term past, not the specific reasons that specific countries are the dominant geopolitical players at this specific instant in history. If you want insight into that question (or just want to hear someone credit all that is right in the world to your own chosen values), go read more books! But, I think that whatever those authors have to say, their arguments will be refinements to the intuitive truth of Diamond's ultimate causes. In my opinion, there’s a good reason that the phrase “guns, germs, and steel” is now part of the public consciousness.
On the audiobook experience: yes, unfortunately, the reader is really dry, even by my forgiving standards.
Jared Diamond is amazing. He takes highly complex issues and describes them with prose that imply simplicity and dignity. He makes complex and difficult social issues understandable to people like me.
I purchased this audio book based on an Audible recommendation. I subsequently purchased all other works he has authored on Amazon.
The narration is neutral. That is how it should be.
NAT GEO already did. The tag line from that should be: READ THE BOOK!
He simplifies complex scientific thinking without diluting the important facts.
This book was impossible because it had almost no direction. It jumps from subject to subject. Typical professorial rambling. (I'm a professor. I can spot it from a mile away.)
I was very excited to see that G G & S was now available in an unabridged version at audible. I jumped in right away. The book is very interesting but it is hard to follow and on top of this the reader is soporific. It is so monotonous that I was constantly rewinding to re listen. In similar terms, I had previously listened to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and the reader was so much enthusiastic and passionate. As I said the book is great, but if you plan to listen it while you drive, pay extra care!
The first half of the book was interesting as it shed light on the environmental differences of each of the parts of the world and there affect on human history. But the linguistics portion about New Guinea is about as dry as you can make it.
I'm a high school student taking an AP history class and I found it boring. We are going to learn more about it this year but what I've read now was boring. My opinion might change later. I fell asleep multiple of times while reading it. The narrator was boring like I've said one million times.
Incredibly interesting material but be prepared for a scientific delivery not an emotional one. It can be dry due to endless examples to prove his hypothesis, however, the detailed evidence makes his claims more credible and believable. Diamond definitely did his homework and knows his stuff. This is a must-read for Anthropology students and enthusiasts and for anyone wondering how the relatively few conquistadors were able to overpower the numerous and advanced Incas.
The general theories presented in this book are quite interesting and I enjoyed listening to the book, although it was very long. The author does a good job in providing detailed support for the theories, but for readers who are NOT detailed oriented, it can get arduous listening to it.