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119 of 126 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

versus
95 of 103 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Get out the red pencil
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...
Published on 23 Aug 2001 by Dr. W. S. James


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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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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, well written, popularised "science", 7 Feb 2008
By 
M. Groves (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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Diamond is very good at making complex theories accessible and interesting to lay people. Sadly, in the process, he destroys his own credibility as a scientist, by never *quite* joining up his chains of reasoning, and by making a few sweeping (and absurd) statements that lack any kind of rigorous scientific approach.

Most glaringly, for example, he starts off his Prologue discussing alternative theories about why some societies developed faster and further than others. On Page 19, he declares how "loathsome" a "racist" explanation based on average intelligence would be. While such an explanation is almost certainly *incorrect*, there is no place in science for assessing *facts* on the basis of whether they are liked or not. One can't help wondering if Diamond would have shrunk from the facts, had the evidence in fact pointed to an explanation based on relative intelligence.

But then on the following few pages (and almost amusingly), Diamond then goes to great pains to show that in his opinion, New Guineans are on average more intelligent than Westerners! So it seems that in his mind, the loathsomeness of such racial generalisations cuts only one way. And of course, one wonders how he reached such a conclusion - since the measurement of intellience is very tricky even for experts in that field! Certainly he quotes no research on the subject, neither his own, nor that of others.

The rest of the book also lacks a rigorous scientific approach - Diamond makes dozens of small errors, ranging from the way he expresses statistics, to non-sequiturs in a chain of reasoning. In my opinion, they do not fatally flaw the gist of his thesis, but they do convert it from a coherent scientific theory into what is merely a good story.

It's not impossible to write a book that is entertaining and readable *and* logically complete, and scientifically sound - as evidenced by authors such as Steven Pinker, Isaac Asimov, and Richard Dawkins, to name but a few.

I gave it a rating of only 2 because despite being an intriguing and important topic it leaves a scientifically critical reader wondering how valid the conclusions are, even though one *senses* that Diamond is spot-on in his explanations. And that's a disappointing waste.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now this is the way a scientist sees history. Evolutionary., 30 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
I'm glad I read the book before I read the reviews.
JD developes his assumptions and hypotheses in the in the manner of a scientist. He introduces his ideas and than brings out the material to support them.
The result is a new view of how the Europeans came to dominate the planet.
I don't think his intention was to demonstrate the superiority of a "racial" group.
I approached this book with hightened expectation, having read his "The Arrow of Disease" in Discover Magazine.
I liked this book because JD took things we all knew about, and looked at their importance in a different way, and presented it in a cogent and interesting manner.
If he desired to engender discussion and debate, he was successful.
I saw the Eurasian success from a new perspective. Although I never considered that we are where we are today as a gift from God, I must admit to having absorbed the ideas of my culture. JD showed that things, even using earlier information, might be different - and why it might be so.
The author was not didactic. Ideas were not rigid. He did not set out to explain why English succeeded, and the Ottoman Turks did not (or did they - for a while).
He did not set out to - once again - tell us some of us are smart (intelligent) and some of us are dumb (not intelligent, or not AS intelligent as . . . WHO?).
This book was another view of how things got to be the way they are.
In the book, It's a Wonderful Life, by Stephen Jay Gould, Gould makes a point about evolution and Homo sapien (that's us, folks). Its a crap shoot. Roll the dice again, and Homo sapien might not even show up at the table.
Yep, not a plan, not Manifest Destiny, not the White Man's Burden, not God's Will - just a lot of luck, and as one wag pointed out, Location, location, location.
I recommend this book to anyone who's reasonably intelligent, and enjoys the challenge of new ideas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, wonderful account of history's big picture, 13 Jun 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
I found it refreshing to read something which genuinely attempted to grasp the big picture of history. Ably dismissing the conceited and partisan theories of earlier generations (and of most people living today), Diamond proposes sensible scientific alternatives which carry the ring of truth, and apparently so self-evident that it seems amazing no one thought of them before.
He isn't too concerned with the individuals and events which are the backbone of traditional histories. He won't explain why one or other political power in Europe gained the advantage in some situation. These are the fine details of the broader picture - and in a very real sense they don't affect the outcome of history. What Diamond wants to know is, for instance, why a steadfastly stone-age Europe was not colonised by gun-toting Native Americans. His ideas give a kind of tragic certainty to the history that we all know and I suspect that many will try to dismiss them as "cultural determinism", as they have with other authors in this vein.
If I have any criticism at all it is that Diamond rather labours the point, but this is not necessarily a bad thing with new and interesting ideas.
This is an approach to history of which I would like to see a lot more - I could not put this book down. I have read most of the science books shortlisted for the 1998 Rhone-Poulenc prize and am very glad that this one won.
If it is permissible to recommend a companion volume try "Cannibals and Kings" by Marvin Harris.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cogent but incomplete account of economic disparities, 2 Jun 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
Diamond's self-confessed mission is to dispel racially deterministic accounts of economic disparity, as well as to aim off culturally deterministic explanations, which he sees as stalking horses for racism. This gets him into diffculties, as he is not always able to stick to his own line: thus, he argues that (eg) Australian Aborigines pursued an optimal developmental course in light of the limits they faced from the lack of domesticable plants and animals; but he also suggests that China's loss of leadership to Europe in the modern era may be explained by its greater centralisation. This is at best inconsistent.
It also points up the central failing of the book, as for all that it presents a compelling explanation of the advantages of Eurasia as a cradle of development, it fails to answer "Yali's question", offering little to explain how one rather than another part of Eurasia (ie, Northwestern Europe (and latterly its cultural successor, North America) rather than the Mediterranean, Levant, Indian subcontinent, or China) has prevailed in the last five hundred years and why the character of its dominance has been so overwhelming. Presumably this is because any attempted explanation would take Diamond further down the culturally deterministic road he prefers not to travel. For a powerful answer to the question shirked by Diamond, see "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations", David S Landes, W W Norton, 1998, which takes the strongly "culturist" line which seems to me inescapable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an ambitious survey of the evolution of civilization, 28 Aug 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
In contrast to the reviewer who characterized this book as "marred by cant", I found very little in the way of political axgrinding in this work. Other than a reference to the "Bell Curve" genre of studies which seek to expose an ethographic causation for intelligence distribution, I found Diamond judicious and discreet in avoiding political or rhetorical cheerleading. His survey of the growth of human societies was informed and fascinating. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in comparative culture or natural science.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in Parts., 15 Sep 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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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book, but the central thesis is not original., 6 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Guns, Germs and Steel (Hardcover)
In 1972 Professor Diamond, challenged by a Papuan friend, considered the question "Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way." He relates that he didn't have an answer then," but twenty-five years later concluded that "History followed different courses because of differences among peoples' environment, not because of differences among peoples themselves."
In 1962, at the end of his book "The Origin of Races," Carleton S. Coon wrote, "Caucasoids and Mongoloids who live in their homelands and in recently colonized regions, such as North America, did not rise to their present population levels and positions of cultural dominance by accident. They achieved this because their ancestors occupied the most favorable of the earths zoological regions, in which other kinds of animals also attained dominance during the Pleistocene. These regions had challenging climates and ample breeding grounds and were centrally located within continental land masses. There general adaptation was more important than special adaptation. Any other subspecies that had evolved in these regions would probably have been just as successful."
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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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