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Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years Paperback – 30 Apr 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 274 customer reviews

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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 3.7 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Review

"Monumental and monumentally good" (William Leith, 4 stars Scotsman)

"A book of big questions, and big answers" (Yuval Noah Harari Geographical)

"This is the book that turned me from a historian of medieval warfare into a student of humankind" (Yuval Noah Harari Week)

"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)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book having been fascinated by the excellent The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? and having read the many glowing reviews here, but I must admit I was a little disappointed. This is much harder going for the general reader then the World Until Yesterday. The central point of this book is that some societies have reached preeminence at this point in history because of environmental and geographical factors - not, of course, because of some innate superiority of one group of people rather than another. Preeminence is shown to have been derived from the suitability of environments to facilitate and sustain settled communities. The key elements of settled communities are shown to be the availability of animals which can be domesticated, and of suitable land and crops to provide food production.

The author makes his points clearly and convincingly and draws on substantial evidence from various branches of science including archeology, anthropology, and linguistics to make his case. Much of the book is devoted to proving points already made earlier in the text

As a general reader i found the rather scientific approach taken in this book a little tedious at times - there is much repetition and summary of points already made, and most of the book is focused on the study of early groupings of people - the hunter gatherers, farmers, and small tribes who lived many thousands of years ago, but with little reference in the book to more modern times.

This is more hard science than it is sociology or history. A good book, but not as interesting for me as a general reader as I had hoped
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