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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 (195 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 April 1998


Over One Million Copies Sold

Why has human history unfolded so differently across the globe?

Jared Diamond puts the case that 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 a ground-breaking and humane work 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 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 822 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 book of remarkable scope... One of the most important and readable works on the human past" (Nature)

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

"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)

"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)

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
119 of 126 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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96 of 104 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This a an excellent book and clarifies much of the reason why Europe and the West prevailed in history, rather than say Africa or N America. Basically Diamond argues eloquently that geography and luck of the draw food resources and animals explain much of the winners success in history. His is a well formed, well researched argument. However, I believe that he turns a blind eye to the major effects ( good and bad ) that different religions and cultures have had on the success of their people. His request for further study by Historians using more scientific means is welcomed . Perhaps someone's PHD thesis could use historical information to compare transplanted religions and cultures into dominant and non dominate societies and analyze the results. My guess is that cultural bias and religions had as much to do with history as did geography and food supply. All in all, a great book.. worthy of much thought, but as one reads it, do not forget to think.
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38 of 42 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most profound books I have ever read ...
One of the most profound books I have ever read. Diamond intertwines human history with an intriguing narrative that kept my interest right to the end.
Published 22 days ago by Shaun
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 22 days ago by J. R. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars It shows that these differences are probably the result of factors...
This is one of the most powerful and insightful books I have ever read. In a rational and logical way it offers explanations for the differences in 'development' between races and... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Ronno
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 month ago by Amanda Lothian-France
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read!
A book everyone should read at least once in their lives. Answers many questions about human history, and humans themselves.
Published 1 month ago by J. Barnett
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by akinniyi
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, chapters too long.
Although it was very educational to read, but the chapters are far too long, each one is as long as an essay. Because of this I couldn't finish the book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mustafa Kulle
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, insightful and inspiring
Fascinating book that really opens your eyes to the effects of early human development, and how this has subsequently impacted the evolution of societies and civilisations around... Read more
Published 1 month ago by M. James Airey
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good book. It puts a whole different slant on ...
Really good book. It puts a whole different slant on why the Spaniards/Europeans were able to conquer the Americas. Worth reading. Non-fiction, but not a difficult read.
Published 1 month ago by Ursula Osborne
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but heavy going in places.
A fascinating description of how different cultures emerged. Some sections I felt were over-written and laboured the point, but all in all a most interesting book.
Published 2 months ago by P. Eaves
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