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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies [Kindle Edition]

Jared Diamond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (665 customer reviews)

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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.

From Library Journal

Most of this work deals with non-Europeans, but Diamond's thesis sheds light on why Western civilization became hegemonic: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." Those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing writing, government, technology, weapons of war, and immunity to deadly germs. (LJ 2/15/97)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This intriguing and expansive book gathers knowledge from a number of fields (archaeology, anthropology, ecology, evolutionary biology, horticulture, and more). Its novelty is not in the details, any of which can be found in other books, but in the synthesis of 13,000 years' worth of human history. Diamond argues that many (but not all) of "the striking differences between the long-term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the people themselves but to differences in their environments."
Diamond covers so much material that any attempt at summary would be imprecise. The sections I found most compelling dealt with agriculture and animal husbandry--two topics that would have probably induced sleep if covered by another author. For example, he presents the fascinating background that the dominant five "large" domesticated mammals--sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, and horses--originated in central Eurasia (and that no easily domesticated, large mammals were available, for example, to North Americans or Australians); that these animals include the world's only widespread "beasts of burden," giving their human handlers additional advantages in mobility and farming; and that most of the world's lethal diseases resulted from proximity to the barnyard, gradually providing Eurasians with immunity to illnesses that later wiped out entire societies upon first exposure. The minor mammals (camels, llamas, reindeer) were too limited by geography and climate to affect the course of history outside their confines. As for zebras, bears, giraffes, tigers, hippos--to this day, nobody has been able to domesticate them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the Better Histories of Human Civilization Aug. 15 2003
Historians generally have an inferiority complex: history is part of the humanities, and for centuries historians have tried to make their subject matter more scientific. This is the first book which actually succeeds. It is not your typical history book as it is based on the sciences of ethnobotany, ethnobiology and genetics. It attempts to address the question of *why* has Euroasian civilization been so successful. The book demolishes all racist arguments, i.e., that European civilization has reached its dominating position as a result of innate abilities of its citizens. Instead, Professor Diamond convincingly argues that it is the prevalence of domesticable plants and animals that are the core factors leading to the development of civilization, and from thence the guns, germs and steel of the title. The only reason I did not give this book five stars is because it bogs down a bit in the later chapters; Diamond tries too hard to support his theses which have already been adequately presented.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Norton 1997), winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, is written by Jared Diamond, a professor of Physiology at UCLA School of Medicine, who also writes about ecology and evolutionary biology. Diamond supposedly wrote this book in response to a question posed by a New Guinea politician:
"Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" Or, put in another way, "why did Europe colonize New Guinea, and elsewhere, instead of the other way around?"
Diamond's theory is that the reasons have little, if anything, to do with biological differences, cultural systems or human effort; it has to do with the location of superior agriculture and domesticable animals. He attempts to prove his theory by examining the world, as it must have looked 13,000 years ago.
Diamond examines three paramount factors:
A. The shape of the continent;
B. The distribution of domesticable wild plants and animals; and
C. The geographical barriers inhibiting diffusion of domesticated plants and animals.
The location that incorporated these three factors led to the earlier decline of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and encouraged farming. This, in turn, led to social stability, government, learning, and, eventually, armies and explorers.
Diamond identifies Eurasia, which had the good fortune to be situated in an east-west orientation ("axis"), to be the perfect highway for agriculture to spread. The mid-latitude region of Eurasia, had the largest continuous zone of temperate climates and, therefore, was more conducive to the origination of superior and plentiful plants and animals.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars everyone must read this book July 29 2003
compelling (and sometimes dense), an overall well structured argument and a very worthwhile read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Having just finished this book, I have mixed feelings about the conclusions. First, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Reading this book is not a waste of time by any stretch of the imagination, so the one star reviews posted here are simply ridiculous. Having said that, I don't believe for a second that Mr. Diamond can be considered even remotely objective; political correctness and an unfair judgment of Europeans is a large part of this book, which is unfortunate.
The positive aspects of this book are numerous. A carefully organized voyage through human history, describing the origins of farming, animal domestication, population expansion, language and writing development, new technologies, colonization of new continents, and more. All this information, and presented in a nice writing style with a logical progression. You can't help but feel more knowledgeable and informed on many aspects of human civilization after reading this book.
The drawbacks to this book are simple: unfairness. Mr. Diamond rarely discusses European civilization and its benefits, instead describing colonization by Europeans as "catastrophic" under all circumstances. Some of his assertions as to why other peoples/continents lagged behind Europe in advancement and technology are quite reasonable, and probably correct. Others are glossed over quickly in hopes that the reader doesn't start to think about it too much. In regards to all the great geniuses that Europe has produced, he explains that they're "wild cards", and nobody knows how they figure into the grand scheme of human history. His view that New Guineans are smarter than Europeans (and white North Americans) is absolutely ludicrous.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Such a good read.
Such a good read...but it is a tome....this is a huge book that you'll need to come back to every year and go over some chapters again.
Published 15 days ago by JD
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent read, length could be cut by a LOT
The book is an interesting whirlwind tour of human history around the globe. The author does a decent job explaining his hypotheses and they are convincing in several respects. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful book
An interesting book, which tries to explain the emergence of western civilization as the dominant culture in our times. Read more
Published 6 months ago by John T C
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Educational and a Good Read!
I genuinely enjoyed reading Guns, Germs and Steel. I enjoyed not because of the readability but the concepts and facts that I learned while reading. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Arnold Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest Inquiry with some Inconvenient Truths
I first read this book fifteen years ago, and thought it was a great book. My thinking has changed a lot since then, but after reading it again, I still think it is a great book. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Blair Dowden
4.0 out of 5 stars pleased
this book was purchased for a neighbor.
i recently bumped into him ans he expressed his satisfaction with the book.
Published 15 months ago by sandra adams
5.0 out of 5 stars A must!
This book explains the evolution of humanity without any explanations about biologic inferiorities between humans. I'm reading it and everything is clear and popularized.
Published 17 months ago by Gabriel Robichaud
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best book I have read. Period.
Well, the headline says it all. This is a must read. I think it should be part of every high school curriculum.
Published 18 months ago by MARTIN DEGRAAUW
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read
I'm half way through this book and can't put it down. So many things that I hadn't considered before. A really good read and great for learning.
Published 21 months ago by jballard
5.0 out of 5 stars Acheives so much in only 400 pages.
Beware of many reviews. A lot of positive and negative ones come from people who haven't read the whole book. A lot come from people who shouldn't read such a book. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Andrew
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History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves. &quote;
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why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? &quote;
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Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own? &quote;
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