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129 of 138 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I guess some folks don't have the patience
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...
Published on 14 July 1999

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, but ignores role of culture and religions!
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...
Published on 3 Aug. 1998


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Educational, thought provoking., 1 May 2008
Why are some parts of the world more advance than others?
A cursory analysis would yield the following suggestions:
1. Some parts of the world have better weapons i.e. guns
2. Some parts of the world have more complicated viruses and bacteria i.e. germs
3. Some parts of the world had an industrial revolution i.e. steel.

This book goes a step deeper and explores the reasons why some parts of the world got these competitive advantages.

The central part of the hypotheisis is that Eurasia had a better ecology and a hole host of benefits spawned from this - not all of which are obvious.

Eurasia (especially the fertile crescent) simple had a good permutation of land, rivers, mountains and climates that produced favourable conditions for a wide range of crops and plants. These favourable conditions also meant a greater range of domesticated animals. For example, most animals over 100KG were first domesticated in Eurasia. This includes, sheep, goats, cattle, horses and donkeys. All this meant, the transition from hunter - gatherer to agrarian lifestle was made sooner. With a sedentary lifestyle comes, population growth, societal organisation, and trade specialisation. But all of this was a indirect result of an act of nature, there was nothing innately special about home euroasio!

With stable sedentary societies, technological progress was inevitable. As were a wide range of germs due the range of domesticated animals and man's closer proximity to them. The complex arrangement of mountains of rivers gave rise to separate cultural and ethnic groupings and eventually nation states. Competition between them, ensured rulers had to innovate or else be face being wiped out by a grouping better organised in what became an almost Darwinian struggle - rewarding societal success and punishing societal failure.

We all know that to understand the present, we sometimes need to understand the past. The question is, how far back in past do we need to go? Well, this book would make me think that when it comes to the comparative evolution of societies, we certainly need to go right back to Pleistocene, have a look at mother nature and take a cue from there.

Want something for your mind to chew on, go for it. You'll enjoy this book.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Defining Work: "This is where we come from", 1 Feb. 2006
By 
Martin Greenwood (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
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Diamond explores the link between geography, and the way that societies develop, on a grand scale over thousands of years. It's the ultimate history book, in which world events shrink to localised inevitabilities in the grand scheme of things. It's a study that relates to history in the same way that "climate" relates to "weather".
Most illuminating and thoroughly researched are the relationships between the available species of plant and animal available to early farmers, and the development of farming and with it "civilization". One uses the word with caution given the extensive discourse that Diamond has upon the subject. Of similar interest is the way that linguistics are used to underpin and cross-reference archealogical data concerning the movement and development of peoples on a global geographical scale.
The thing that really brings the book to life is the personal passion of Diamond himself. He has worked at close quarters with "primitive" peoples - a word whose use he would object to - and he is at pains to debunk the notion of one society being in some way genetically superior to another. He mixes research data with personal anecdotes and experiences in a way that illuminates and illustrates what he is saying, without losing the scientific objectivity of his principal vantage point.
The book is well-written, has a clear structure and flows well. At certain points it can be a little laboured, some commonsense points being explained over several pages, but this usually happens when he is tackling some commonly held misperception. He uses the question of a New Guinea friend, basically "why do some societies do better than others" as opening background, though as an attention-grabber it seemed a little weak and as a "red thread" came over as slightly contrived. The book really gets into its stride in about the second or third chapter. However, this is a very minor criticism of a work of masterly proportions and execution.
I would thoroughly recommend this book. If nothing else, the reader will be able to watch television documentaries about far-flung places and spot the triteness and popular inexactitude of some of the commentary. However, in terms of driving a stake into the ground, and saying "this is where we come from" and why, this is the defining work, and well deserving it is of its Pulitzer Prize status.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Human Environmental Adaptation, 18 Feb. 2012
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In my opinion the largest detraction from this,otherwise entertaining treatise on human environmental adaption, is the writing style.All too often sentences start by making a proposition,they then go on to lengthily state exceptions/digressions and then carry on with the original line of thought.The trouble is by the time you come to the end on the exceptions or whatever the diversion may be you've invariably forgotten what the original discussion or premise was in the first place and have to backtrack.I'd have forgiven this type of error but for the authors persistence with it,and the fact that the greater parts of it are clearly expressed, so you get the impression of bottlenecks in the writing which interrupt the flow.There is quite a bit of unneeded repetition as well,by the time I got to the final chapters I got the impression that he was spinning it out somewhat.Still,overall it did educate me on the theories involved on mankind's conquests and climatic adaptations,although,I'm unsure of the amount of genetic evidence that has arisen since its publication,as a broad overview I should think this still stands.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an attempt at a geographical basis of history, 16 April 2011
An interesting and broadly successful try at exploring the geographical and biological causes of some historical events, including the dominance of the West. A welcome approach, putting history on a more "scientific " footing. Although unlikely to be the only elements in determining historical outcomes, the factors Diamonds described certainly deserve more attention than they have so far received.
In my locality, I know there to be strong links between geography and history. For example, the fortuitous combination of coal, water and ores lead to the pre-eminence of Swansea as a copper producing town in the 19th century. ALso, on the Gower peninsula there is a north -south geographical split, with the more productive soils on the south. It was here the Normans settled, driving the native welsh to the north of gower. This demarcation is reflected in the maps of the 19th century, with greater road networks in the south, and even today, with average house prices being higher on south Gower.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, a great read., 30 Jan. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
Like "Third Chimpanzee", "Guns, Germs, and Steel" covers such a wide range of times, peoples, and topics that even if you don't agree with the author's conclusion (sort of an enhanced geographical determinism- maybe "bio-geographical determinism"?) you'll enjoy the book simply for the incredible breadth of information presented by Diamond to make his case. I happened to agree with his conclusion, so I enjoyed it that much more. Only a couple of very minor criticisms: 1) As a couple of previous reviewers mentioned, the last few chapters get a bit repetitive at times (you'll catch yourself thinking "I GET it already!") 2) Some examples are much more convincing than others. For instance, his Polynesian, New Guinean, and Australian examples are neat, complete, and utterly persuasive. Some of his New World examples, however, are not as convincing. One example is the failure of the wheel to catch on in the New World. According to the book, the wheel was invented in MesoAmerica, but not in Ancient Peru. But since the only draft animals (llamas) were in Peru, the wheel never really caught on and was used only on ceramic toys in MesoAmerica. Because of the difficult geography of the region- jungles, narrow isthmus, etc.- the wheel never spread to the Incas. My problem with this example is the #'s don't seem to add up. Diamond offers 1 mile/month as a conservative guesstimate of how quickly paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers filled up the Americas, meaning that people could migrate from the Bering strait to the southernmost tip of South American in about 700 years. Now Peru and MesoAmerica are only a fraction of that distance apart, but somehow, over hundreds of years, no one managed to get one of these wheeled toys- or even the idea of a wheeled toy- between the two societies? This is even harder to believe when we consider that these people had sea-going rafts. Diamond refers to one that Pizzaro captured off the coast of Peru, and Cuba and Hispaniola were full of Indians when Colombus arrived... I had similar problems with the explanation for the failure of writing to migrate from MesoAmerica to Peru. Yes, the Incans had their system of knots for record-keeping, but again it's hard to believe that no one would get the idea of visual symbols on a flat surface across that distance over hundreds of years... Diamond's own area of research appears to be primarily New Guinea and Polynesia, so perhaps that's why his examples are stronger there. At any rate, the book is still outstanding- the 400 pages pass too quickly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Insightful, 3 Aug. 2007
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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Jared Thomas' basic premise that the ultimate reason for the difference in technology and "development" of different societies is due to an accident in geography and not in innate genetic capabilities is simple and well-argued.

I bought this book with a certain degree of scepticism in the ability of the writer to condense 13,000 years of human history into a small volume, while prescribing an overarching law to decribe all human societies. I left being impressed with his argument and style.

The author argues quite convincingly that plant and "big mammal" domestication, the orientation of the continental landmasses, the rise of cities and climate gave the Eurasian land mass a head start over all other centres of civilisation. Even though the proximate cause of current Western political and economic domination is technology (guns, ocean going vessels, horses etc) the seeds for Western domination were sown by the independent domestication of barley, wheat and the horse in the Fertile Crescent 5000 years ago.

Apart from the figures that the author throws one's way, he manages to weave a very interesting tale by spicing it up with anecdotes from his years of extensive research in Papua New Guinea.

The book does fall short in explaining why of the Eurasian societies in the late 1400's it is Western Europe that rises to conquer the world and not the Ottoman or Chinese Empire. His explanation that the eventual victors in a power struggle in China prohibited further trade and sea-faring seems a bit superficial. To my mind it seems to do little credit to the rise of the scientific spirit in early Western Europe.

Overall, it is an excellent read and one that I highly recommend.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for every Social Scientist & Philosopher, 14 Dec. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
Jared Diamond's work may be the most important contribution to the understanding of human history since Rousseau's DISCOURSE OF THE ORIGIN OF INEQUALITY (1755) forced philosophers to question the assumption that civilization was "naturally" superior to pre-literate ("savage") society. Diamond has had the courage to raise the essential questions about the psychic unity of our species, the origins of political institutions, and the shape of modern history. In so doing, his analysis reflects the explosion of knowledge in evolutionary biology over the last decade while integrating research cutting across many fields in the social sciences and humanities. Although some specialists have quibbled about details (professors are territorial animals), Diamond's basic question -- why did Europe conquer the New World, Africa and Asia -- cannot be addressed without something like his broad view. Given the absurd stereotype of biology as genetic determinism, it is particularly fascinating to see how biogeography takes on an essential role in the explanation of cultural differences and historical sequences. No longer can serious analyses of Western global hegemony ignore the argument that it is due to such factors as the timing of hominid settlement in various continents, their orientation and scale, and the diversity of their fauna and fauna suited for domestication. Diamond's complex analysis of the origins (and frequent collapse) of political institutions challenges the simplistic formulas that dominate most social science today. If you are seriously interested in understanding human nature, history and politics, this book is not to be missed. Despite all the publicity it has received, few of my colleagues seem to have read -- or even know about -- Diamond's important and thought-provoking book. If you are seriously interested in understanding human nature, history and politics, GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL is not to be missed. Roger D. Masters, Department of Government, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating history of the world, 14 May 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
I thought this was a simply amazing book. Diamond's singular talent is to bring knowledge from a disparate array of natural and social sciences into a meaningful, coherent whole. Diamond examines the world and its peoples throught the lenses of linguistics, geography, botany, zoology, sociology, and epidemiology and somehow combines them all to create a theory of human history. This book addresses many fascinating questions most of us have probably never really thought about, but which can explain a lot about history. How come when Europeans, mounted on horseback, colonized Africa, they weren't met by Arficans mounted on Zebras and Rhinos? How come Europeans decimated indegenous Americans with their diseases, instead of vice versa? Diamond marshalls compelling evidence to show that a populations' intitial advantages in terms of readily domesticatible plants and animals, more than anything else, explains the ultimate fates of human societies. In terms of sheer knowledge, I learned more from this book than any I have ever read.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in Parts., 15 Sept. 2005
By 
I approached this book, which had been strongly recommended to me, with eager anticipation. Now, having just finished it, I feel slightly let down. I broadly agree with the main conclusions. However, I think there are many anomalies that require a deeper explanation and cannot convincingly be shoehorned into his thesis. From that perspective, David Landes' book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, is more satisfying. The two are complementary and I am glad I read both.
I also agree with other reviewers that there is too much repetition. I lost count of the number of times I read about the advantages of an east-west oriented continent for the diffusion of ideas, or the lack of large mammals suitable for domestication in some land masses. In part, this was due, I thought, to a rather cumbersome organisation of the material. I also felt that Diamond's politics intruded and, frankly, this detracted from his authority. On the other hand, the sections on domestication of crops and the conclusions from linguistic research were fascinating. Overall, a worthwhile, if slightly disappointing, read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of those books that changes the way you think, 24 Oct. 2013
Guns Germs & Steel (Together with the same author's 'Collapse', which is really a sort of extended appendix to the same thesis) is one of those handful of books that will completely change the way you think about the world and massively contribute to your understanding of it. It is also written entertainingly and with great clarity: Diamond avoids either using or coining pointless jargon. Whilst you may quibble with some of the details of his analysis, it is very difficult to escape from the central thrust of his thesis. I would strongly recommend this to anyone interested in history or social science - indeed to anyone who wants to understand the world we live in.
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Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (Hardcover - 6 Dec. 2005)
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