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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, eclectic panorama of the past 13,000 years
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...
Published on Aug. 31 2003 by D. Cloyce Smith

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Story , But Not A Scientific Study of History
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...
Published on April 24 2002 by kellygirl1hawaii


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, eclectic panorama of the past 13,000 years, Aug. 31 2003
By 
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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. While this seems intuitively obvious, no writer has so clearly and irrefutably connected the dots, showing how access to these animals gave early chiefdoms an insurmountable advantage over those human societies without them and allowed them to develop surpluses and commerce that supported the world's most enduring civilizations.
Comments made by the author's critics, while few in number, nearly prevented me from reading this book and need to be addressed so other readers won't be similarly discouraged. A few readers seem offended by Diamond's self-mocking and somewhat tongue-in-cheek assertion (in the Introduction) that the natives of New Guinea have certain advantages that make them arguably more "intelligent." Yet these commentators are willfully ignoring the context: Diamond admits that "New Guineans tend to perform poorly at tasks that Westerners have been trained to perform since childhood," yet he is quite aware of how "stupid I look to New Guineans when I'm with them in the jungle." That is, if one defines "intelligence" not as the knowledge needed to use a computer or write a book review but, rather, as the ability to survive in the wild ("following a jungle trail" or identifying poisonous mushrooms, to cite two of the author's examples), then the New Guineans win hands down. To make a similarly lighthearted argument: when the house of cards we call "civilization" is threatened by the least misfortune (economic recession, power blackout, bad weather, the death of a British princess), a frightening number of otherwise "intelligent" people, instead of relying on their wits and survival skills, rush straight for their therapists.
Likewise, anyone who accuses Diamond of "geographic determinism" cannot have read the epilogue, in which he clearly rejects such an extreme position. He admits that individuals and cultures--and, for that matter, pure chance--can also influence history, but "that some environments provide more starting materials, and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions, then do other environments." The author's argument is unambiguous: while culture, as well as individual inventors and rulers, certainly influence history on a microcosmic level (during spans of centuries or millennia), there are larger factors, such as geography and ecology, at play when human history is considered as a whole over the last 13,000 years. Diamond is looking at the forest rather than the trees; thus, to fault the author for ignoring such factors as religion and politics is off the mark, since such belief systems didn't exist in anything remotely resembling their present form for most of the period under discussion. Furthermore, to identify human advances in terms of culture still fails to explain how differing cultures arose in the first place.
Finally, and more easily dismissed, are those hecklers who howl "political correctness." Such critics seldom identify flaws in the author's arguments or even tell us what they insinuate by this increasingly meaningless term.
Since the book's span is so sweeping and since many of Diamond's hypotheses are offered tentatively (as suggestions for a new "science" of history), there are bound to be statements or implications that may eventually prove inaccurate or too simplistic. I strongly suspect, however, that his overarching thesis will withstand the test of time; at the very least, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" will inspire open-minded thinkers to consider human history--in its broadest sense--in a whole new light.
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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
By 
William Nicholas III (Jackson, MS United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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
2.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Story , But Not A Scientific Study of History, April 24 2002
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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. Thus, Eurasia was "fated" to be the center of farming and, indeed, became the birthplace of civilization.
According to Diamond, continents with a north-south axis (e.g., Africa, the Americas), was not conducive to the spread of agriculture as plants had to move through different climate zones. There is no discussion of the adaptability of plants, even though that is an essential element of domesticability. The ubiquitous potato now thrives in many areas foreign to its place of origination.
Diamond's theory based on the domestication of wild animals is a little stronger. The early domestication of animals in Eurasia eventually led to human resistance to certain diseases acquired from animals. European explorers had developed significant immunities to diseases to which the people in the New World had no resistance. Thus, smallpox wiped out an entire civilization, or at least rendered the people defenseless to invaders.
Diamond argues that the contiguous nature of the countries in the east-west axis, as well as their temperate environments, led to rapid dispersion of plants and the domestication of animals. Actually, there are many inhospitable barriers within Eurasia, which, under Diamond's theory would block diffusion. However, Diamond does not address this factor.
Diamond also fails to explain, adequately, why Australia, which has a climate similar to the mid-lateral region of Eurasia did not begin farming until much later.
Diamond concludes that Eurasia was fated to be the winner in the worldwide historical competition because of geographical and environmental advantages. Then approximately 500 years ago, Europe pulled ahead of China and assumed sole dominance. The lack of competition within homogeneous China was given as the reason Europe became sole victor in the end.
There are several major problems with Diamond's theory. The first is the absence of any provable, corroborating evidence. Under his theory if the New Guinean man and his descendants had switched places with the Europeans 10,000 years ago, those people would have become the colonizers, instead of the colonized.
The book also is heavily biased by the author's "reverse" racism views. In response to the question of whether there are any biological differences today between Aboriginal Australians and Europeans, Diamond states:
"The objection to such racist explanations is not just that they are loathsome, but also that they are wrong. Sound evidence for the existence of human differences in intelligence that parallel human differences in technology is lacking. In fact ... modern "Stone Age" peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples."
The author's choice of the word "loathsome," an emotionally loaded word, to describe racism sets the tone for this very politically correct book.
This reviewer's impression is that Diamond has a pre-determined conclusion, and he relies on certain theories to support it, but ignores those same theories when they don't support his conclusion. In the end, Diamond does not establish a credible response to the New Guinea man's questions. To the extent the book purports to be a scientific study of history, the author has made a very basic error: he attempts to explain a "fact" - that there are no biological differences among different groups of people - without first establishing that that indeed is a fact.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is an interesting, politically correct story of the evolution of civilization, but I would not recommend it as a scientific study of history. Though fairly easy to read, the book is very repetitive and unnecessarily long to make the author's point. One hundred or more pages easily could have been cut.
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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
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Many of the Pieces, Perhaps...But the Whole Puzzle?, June 3 2003
By 
LostBoy76 (Vancouver, BC Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Guns Germs And Steel (Hardcover)
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. His basis for this judgment is that New Guineans are good at remembering jungle paths and plantlife, while white people watch too much TV. What!!? Hmmm...or could it be that if you had arrived at the conclusion that Europeans were smarter this book would never have been published, and you would have been dismissed as a racist! It's interesting to see that people are still against bigotry, unless it's aimed at white people.
Those are some of the thoughts I had while reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel". It is definitely a worthwhile read for someone interested in human history and the dawn of civilization. Just be warned that this book is written from an extremely one-sided viewpoint, with Europeans and people of European descent not getting the credit they deserve.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A history of humanity's past 13,000 years, Dec 28 2003
By 
Peter D. Tillman (Cambria, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
-----------------------------------------------------------
How did the West grow rich and conquer the world? It
wasn't racial superiority, as the Victorians thought - indeed, Diamond
gives evidence that the average New Guinean may well be smarter
than the average Westerner. His own one-sentence summary of the
book is: "History followed different courses for different peoples
because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of
biological differences among the peoples themselves"[clunk]. Or, it's the
environment, stupid. Or, the West got lucky.
I'm uncomfortable with history-as-polemics, but Diamond (usually)
keeps his facts and interpretations pretty well separated. And this is a
wonderful one-volume history of the human race. It is unusual, and
refreshing, to read a history written by a distinguished and literate
biological scientist. History isn't generally considered to be science -
"it's just one damn thing after another." But then, you could say the
same for large parts of astronomy, biology & geology.
13,000 years ago, the most recent Ice Age was ending, and people
everywhere still made their living as hunter-gatherers. Diamond starts
his story at the dawn of civilization. By Chapter 3, he's recounting
Pizarro's conquest of the Inca empire in 1532. In an afternoon, 168
Spanish soldiers routed an army of 80,000, killed 7,000, and captured
the Inca emperor. It's not surprising that the Spaniards would feel
superior. But the conquistadores' invisible allies had been at work
since 1492 - smallpox from Spain had killed the previous Inca emperor
and his heir, setting off a war of succession that fatally weakened the
empire. Diseases from Europe would ultimately kill up to 95% of the
native peoples of the Americas, often before they saw their first
European. The old American cultures were doomed from first contact,
even if the Old World visitors had been peaceful explorers and traders.
12,000 years of isolation had left native Americans with no resistance to
the lethal European microbes.
Where did these diseases come from, and why didn't the Indians
return the favor by infecting Eurasia? Many came originally from
domestic animals (for example, measles and smallpox from cattle), and
required large, dense populations to evolve. The Indians had few
domestic animals - one reason why they were poorer than Eurasians,
and those (fortuitously) had no diseases that "made the jump" from
animals to humans - good evidence for Diamond's "history as luck"
hypothesis.
Diamond's history is wonderful, full of new science, strange facts, and
great anecdotes. The polemics get repetitious and a bit defensive at
times, but can be safely skimmed. This would have been a better book
had it been written as straight history, letting the facts speak for
themselves - but it's still well worth reading. Recommended.
Diamond, a professor of physiology at UCLA, is a frequent
contributor to Discover, Natural History, and Geo magazines.
-- Pete Tillman is a consulting geologist based in Arizona.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for all types of readers., July 12 2004
By 
J. Boley "JB" (Lafayette, IN United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
I read this book purely for pleasure, unlike a lot of people I know who have read it for class or as part of an academic exercise. I simply like to pick a book that will challenge me in between fiction books. This book did not disappoint.
This is a rare work in that it can appeal to academics and pleasure readers. The knowledge and research behind the concepts in the book are complex and detailed, but Diamond does such an excellent job of explaining things, that you can easily sometimes forget the vast amount of information that he had to assimilate in order to put forth this hypothesis.
There are also two main points from the book that I took. One is the merely academic and scientific data that you learn from the book. I do not have a science, anthropologic, or linguistic background, so I learned a great deal from this book. But secondly, there is a very clear goal of this book to discount the foundations of racism. This is a lesson that every reader from this book can take with them and actually use in real life. I was struck at how this book can have such a dual purpose, and this makes it truly unique in my opinion.
Sure, there are vast generalizations that are made in a work such as this, just as there are in any history book, but this book has excellent points, is well researched, and makes solid arguments. I would definitely read another book by Jared Diamond and will definitely not forget the lessons I learned in this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Such a good read., July 14 2014
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This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Decent read, length could be cut by a LOT, Jan. 30 2014
By 
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
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. I learned about several aspects of human history that I wasn't otherwise aware of and it is a good starting point for further reading on the subject. That said, however, two things really irritated me about the book that kept me from giving it a higher rating: first, the author has a horribly repetitive and long-winded writing style. I could easily cut this book down by a couple hundred pages and not lose any real content. He repeats himself over, and over, and over, and over again, sometimes within a page or two. Second, he never brings up or addresses any potential counter-arguments to his theories. Comparing this with, for example, the origin of species, where Darwin spends considerable time going through every conceivable objection to his hypothesis, the author here spends maybe a sentence here or there throughout the entire book. Overall, I think it is worth the read, but don't take all of it as gospel for the field, and go to the end of the book where he lists further reading suggestions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful book, Jan. 26 2014
By 
John T C (Raleigh, NC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (Paperback)
An interesting book, which tries to explain the emergence of western civilization as the dominant culture in our times. Revealing though it is; it failed to explain a lot that defied the views postulated. A great read though. Union Moujik, Collapse, The Shades of Fire, The Third Chimpanzee are other interesting books to read.
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Guns, Germs, and Steel
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (Paperback - April 1 1999)
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