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.
an endless list of dates and factoids about when inventions and innovations reached certain areas and how they evolved similarly or differently.
no narrative whatsoever, no placement in context. just dry-ass anthropology.
excellent overview of how changes in hunter gatherer, agriculture, language, governing systems, geography, and discovery shaped mankind. engaging reader. written on an academic level, but approachable.
This its a must read book, even if there are criticable chapters or references the theory it's solid and explains far more than most of other theories about this fact, ¿why Europe conquered the world and not someone else?
Even though a few concepts the he brings up in the beginning of the book can be debated and I don't neccearry agree with the rest of the book is left untainted and well sourced.
Very interesting and informative, but a bit too lengthy to maintain the exitement over time.
If an abriged version exists, I'd suggest you try that instead.
In this highly informative work, an evolutionary biologist elucidates major factors of human history.
I personally enjoyed the first several chapters (those on major principles of the book, the role of plants, and the role of animals) more than the last several chapters (a view of several major movements in history viewed in terms of those principles). The later chapters read more like a history book.
The book as a whole has a powerfully anti-racism message.
The physical book has several maps, photos and diagrams. I found it very helpful to look at these in my paper copy before and after listening to a chapter. Unfortunately, the audiobook does not mention when there is a picture, and I don't think the audible file makes them available in any way. The book is still good without the images, but if you are able to get them I recommend doing so.
This rare case when you can not look at the world as you did before. When the ideas seem so reasonable and obvious that you cannot understand how you missed them before.