Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 1998
Guns, Germs and Steel examines the rise of civilization and the issues its development has raised throughout history.
Having done field work in New Guinea for more than 30 years, Jared Diamond presents the geographical and ecological factors that have shaped the modern world. From the viewpoint of an evolutionary biologist, he highlights the broadest movements both literal and conceptual on every continent since the Ice Age, and examines societal advances such as writing, religion, government, and technology. Diamond also dissects racial theories of global history, and the resulting work—Guns, Germs and Steel—is a major contribution to our understanding the evolution of human societies.
©1997 Jared Diamond (P)2011 Random House
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.
Not as an audiobook, but I would as a Kindle book or paper book. I liked the information in it, but I just felt the same points were iterated too many times, so I'd like to keep the information while having an easier format to skip ahead with. If the author would go through with an editorial team and cut out some of this repetition that would be even better, and I'd feel much better about the audio version.
I can't pinpoint one particular moment. Being the kind of nonfiction it is, it's not exactly built up to a memorable denouement. I felt like Diamond laid out his case logically and brought the threads together well, though.
I don't know what I would have changed; I felt Ordunio's performance was adequate; neither annoying or perfectly suited. The narration seemed a little stilted, perhaps, and it was hard for me to get drawn in.
Not really. I am normally not a fan of abridgment, but this is a rare case where I feel it would be beneficial. Many times, especially during the last 6-7 chapters I could have told you what the narrator was going to say before he said it. It was kind of the same information from the earlier chapters slightly reworded and applied in a slightly different context. I felt the author did such a good job on those concepts earlier, that much of the last part of the book was redundant. There were a few elements of the last section that were independently worthwhile, but I feel like with clever editorial choices those could have been incorporated in shorter form in different parts of the book. Honestly, I think the whole thing could have been about 30 percent shorter and still made its case admirably.
Great narration of an at first glance dry topic, that grows more interesting with every page. It takes a step back from normal history and tried to get a birds eye view of the patterns of population growth, technology and conquest.
A clear argument against any notion that one race is inherently superior to another. Exquisitely illustrates how early physical environmental factors had a snowball effect ultimately resulting in the state of nations we see today.
such inspiring, interesting, connective material. chock full of information, I had to slow down the reading.
This is by far the driest book I have ever tried to listen to. I am very interested in the subject matter, but it reads like a text book. I would recommend listening to Sapiens instead - it's a fascinating read and is also about human history and development.
The book is a classic of macro level history,that gives a philosophy for human development. It's a really nice companion to Sapiens. The performance also really flows.
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.
"good book, bad narration"
The content sounded good, but to be honest I'm not sure, because the narration is awful. He sounds half asleep, and his intonation and phrasing doesn't guide where you are in the structure of the book, so it's hard to follow. i gave up in the end - just couldn't stand it
"More accurate than the bible"
A brilliant foolproof guide to the history of man. Papua new Guinea probably gets a few too many mentions is the only fault.
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