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Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years [Paperback]

Jared Diamond
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 April 1998

This book answers the most obvious, the most important, yet the most difficult question about human history: why history unfolded so differently on different continents. Geography and biogeography, not race, moulded the contrasting fates of Europeans, Asians, Native Americans, sub-Saharan Africans, and aboriginal Australians.

An ambitious synthesis of history, biology, ecology and linguistics, Guns, Germs and Steel is one of the most important and humane works of popular science.

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Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years + Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive + The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (30 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099302780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099302780
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jared Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Until recently he was Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the widely acclaimed Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, which also is the winner of Britain's 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Life isn't fair--here's why: Since 1500, Europeans have, for better and worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains the reasons why things worked out that way. It is an elemental question, and Diamond is certainly not the first to ask it. However, he performs a singular service by relying on scientific fact rather than specious theories of European genetic superiority. Diamond, a professor of physiology at UCLA, suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals and the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government and communication--and increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China did not. (For example, the Europeans used the Chinese invention of gunpowder to create guns and subjugate the New World.) Diamond's book is complex and a bit overwhelming. But the thesis he methodically puts forth--examining the "positive feedback loop" of farming, then domestication, then population density, then innovation, and on and on--makes sense. Written without bias, Guns, Germs, and Steel is good global history.


"A prodigious, convincing work, conceived on a grand scale" (Observer)

"The most absorbing account on offer of the emergence of a world divided between have and have-nots... Never before put together so coherently, with such a combination of expertise, charm and compassion" (The Times)

"A book of remarkable scope... One of the most important and readable works on the human past" (Nature)

"Diamond's sideways-on view of human development may well establish its author as one of the very few scientists to have changed the way we think about history" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Fascinating, coherent, compassionate and completely accessible" (Sunday Telegraph)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
115 of 122 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I guess some folks don't have the patience 14 July 1999
By A Customer
I think some of the reviewers here didn't read the book closely enough to understand the context of some of Diamond's arguments. He never says that biogeographical effects are the ONLY causes history. His main purpose is the search for the ultimate, extremely general causes for the broadest of trends in human history and prehistory.
By the time the Mongols roared across Asia, or the Moguls invaded India, many cultures around the world already changed so much that bioregional factors, though seminal in the creation of these broadest trends, weren't nearly as important as the political, religious and economic ones. He is not ignoring religion and so on but, he states plainly several times that isn't his focus. He is looking for ultimate causes--before humans had extremely advanced mental concepts like religion.
He also wanted to point out the devastating influence of disease on history. It was surely the European germs that did most of the conquering of Native Americans. The guns and horses were almost incidental. Later on, once Europeans had established themselves, then we can focus on economic and political systems. But we can't ignore the effects of the diseases unleashed on the Americas. These plagues gave the Europeans a very lucky boost that catapulted them beyond the wealth and power of China, India or the Middle East--long before the Industrial Revolution made this gap obvious.
Another thing that some people seem to be having trouble with is his assertions about the native intelligence of tribal peoples around the world. (If you read the book, you notice that he is not just saying this about the New Guineans.)
He takes pains to point out what he means by this. He not talking about some mysterious genetic superiority of tribal peoples.
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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Get out the red pencil 23 Aug 2001
In many ways, as the other reviewers have noted, this is a remarkably good book. It synthesizes aspects of archaeology, sociology, genetics, history and more to give a coherent account of the rise and fall of human cultures. There are very few howlers, most of the evidence is up-to-date and handled with due caution and he manages to provide a unifying thesis of human history that is comprehensible and almost convincing. More than this, he makes a good stab at trying to map out a research path for historians that aims to put their field on the same footing as other "historical sciences" such as evolutionary biology and cosmology. I don't suppose many historians will leap to follow the lead, but it was a laudable attempt. So why not give such an astounding work of breadth and insight the full five stars?
The answer is: sloppy repetition and over-playing his hand. Diamond's commissioning editor should have been firmer and used the red pencil more vigorously. Over and over again, Diamond repeats great chunks of his text almost verbatim. The effect on the reader, who has got half way through the book and is just getting interested in a new point Diamond is beginning to make, of running into the third or fourth reprise of an argument (complete with evidence and rhetorical touches) on another issue is incredibly frustrating. I can't believe Diamond thinks his readers need the repetition in order to understand his argument. The fact that many of the phrases are repeated exactly suggests to me that He has been just a little careless about proof reading and has failed to delete dozens of relicts of the word-processor's "copy and paste" function.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The essential read for all thinking apes! 19 Aug 2001
By A Customer
Quite simply- I learned more about human history in this one book than in ten years of studying it at university (including a PhD). Naively called "deterministic" by scientifically illiterate historians, the book provides a very plausible account of the broad outlines of human demographic history over the past 13,000 years. True in many place Diamond betrays his ignorance of the subtleties and distinctions used in the social sciences, but I find that these are more than compensated for by the books impressive evidence and logical coherence. The only criticism I would make of the book is that it is quite often repetitive and there is no excuse for this in a book of this length. The points could have been made in more brevity- so the beginnings of chapters can be skimmed where Diamond repeats what he has argued at length in the previous chapters. In short- READ THIS BOOK! Take it seriously- and try to imagine our world as it once was- filled with exotic (now extinct) animals and full of regions capable of supporting human gathers/hunters. How did the human world get to be the way it is now? This book is the first step in understanding how.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not necessarily the last word on the subject 23 April 2003
By A Customer
A brilliant book. The style is clear and readable, and the author's evidence for his argument so powerfully marshalled that it firmly puts the ball in the court of anyone wishing to propose a cultural or genetic case for the economic and military dominance of Western culture.
One book which seeks to do so (in the specifically military sphere) is "Why the West has Won" by Victor Davis Hanson, who accuses Diamond of determinism and ignoring unique cultural variables. I think the latter has a political agenda, that capitalism and individualism are inherently superior to other cultural characteristics - but, to be fair, I am sure Diamond too, when he concludes that Caucasian Westerners have no inherent superiority to other races and cultures, is equally politically motivated.
Doesn't mean either of them is wrong, though. Read both books and see what you think.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
Jared Diamond backs up his coherent hypothesis for how the status quo came to be with excellent examples from history and with what we know about the geography, geology and ecology... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Andrew
5.0 out of 5 stars A must
This is simply one of the best books I have ever read. It's definitively a masterpiece I suggest to everyone interested in understanding human evolution a little bit better (from a... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Michele Filannino
5.0 out of 5 stars Asuperb book, lots of questions to ask oursleves
Really like it and happy with it! Interesting book and a lot to learn from, I am happy to order again.
Published 1 month ago by Claudia
5.0 out of 5 stars A nice narrative masterpiece
A nice narrative masterpiece writing on science, geography, society, civilization, history of the last 13000 years. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sujan Chowdhury
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly valuable contribution
This is the 3rd time I've bought this book, having given away my own copies twice, and recommended it many times to friends and students asking 'Yali's Question'. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kate Nivison
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read...
Incredibly fresh way to look at how we developed into where we re today on this globe. Great read, recommended
Published 1 month ago by Feiko
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of fascinating details...
Anybody who thinks they know history should read this book. How many "world history" classes that you took spend the time to really dive into the details about the origins... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jon Gibson Mcgill
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 2 months ago by John T C
3.0 out of 5 stars A learning experience, if not a reading one.
The problem with Guns, Germs and Steel is that it is a fascinating subject explored in a repetitive and tedious manner. Read more
Published 3 months ago by T. West
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
This book should be compulsory reading for many countries like Australia and south Africa where racism is quite entrenched. Read more
Published 3 months ago by lawrence
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