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on 11 June 2017
A damned good read which is ongoing.
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on 15 February 2015
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on 3 August 2007
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 January 2013
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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on 5 January 2014
The problem with Guns, Germs and Steel is that it is a fascinating subject explored in a repetitive and tedious manner. Jared Diamond may be a polymath and science populariser, but unlike Carl Sagan and Jacob Bronowski, his prose is a chore and a good third of the book is filler. You will learn a great deal about how geography has shaped civilisation (although Diamond has a hypersensitivity to Eurocentricism - putting inverted commas around superior and disovery when discussing the expansion of European empires - it makes the tone a bit too right-on). The trouble is that you will learn a lot about it again, and again. It is a popular science book, but I wish Diamond had credited the reader with greater powers of recall.

That said, I think it's worth reading to challenge your own subconsciously biased assumptions about how Europe came to be the first to reach what we call modern civilisation, although I would've liked more mention of the ideas scientific racism actually puts forth as to why biology matters, in comparison with the geographic stance, and why they are racist nonsense. It would be more interesting, instructive and support the central thesis of the book much better than banging on about the east-west axis and food production packages, which is enlightening the first time, but eventually grates with those who are trying to read it through properly.

Still, it is enlightening, and shapes one's perspective of history in a geographic and chronological sense, making the rise and fall of Rome seem relatively recent and local, and exploring the fundamentals of civilisation in depth. It would be nice if certain 'factual programming' channels could take a broader look at history and create programmes that explore the subjects discussed here.
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on 9 March 2017
Mr Diamond sets out to answer a local (New Guinea) politician s question, briefly why westerners have all the gear and his people had so little. The author establishes the cause of environmental opportunity and the effect of technological advancement. The earliest development is food production as opposed to hunting-gathering and everything seems to follow from that. He makes a very compelling argument and I think anyone finding the logic of determinacy too much, is probably nursing some kind of elitism. The scope of the opening chapters is mindboggling.
A narrower focus on each of the continents and type of development in turn gradually drives home the welcome message that bushman is as intelligent or more so than European but had less or different options in feeding himself/ herself due to ecological factors. It also incidentally answers many historical questions and opens areas of debate that are all too little visited - certainly outside academe. Heartily recommended.
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on 19 July 2016
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, attempts to answer the question of why the European powers, or rather the Western World, came to power rather than Asian, African, or South American societies. He suggests this notion was brought to him by a New Guinean friend who asked why it was the European nations who conquered and colonized, and not, for example, Oceanic civilizations. "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" Elsewhere he asks why Spain invaded South America instead of the Mayans invading Spain.

His central theory is this: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." He painstakingly makes the point that societies took different paths for four reasons:
The native crops and animals in each region.
The orientation of continental axis, which hinders or promotes the diffusion of agriculture.
Transfer of knowledge.
Population density.
While it is true that European historians have often attempted to use racist theories to explain Western hegemony, at times Diamond seems to go to the opposite extreme. At the beginning of his book he seems eager to explain himself as different from previous generations and free from their racial prejudice. Throughout the book, he pours on the political correctness, which is at times excruciating. He makes outrageous racist statements about white people which are as bad as what you might expect to find in a more traditional "whites are superior and that's all you need to know" sort of study.
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on 6 April 2017
A perspective changer. The most interesting book I've read in a long time.
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on 19 March 2017
Tends towards environmental determinism viewpoint but Diamond argues his case well
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on 2 October 2017
Proposes several interesting hypothesis throughout, however the book suffers from being both an increadibly dry writing style and around 250 pages too long. Almost every chapter has repeats of synopses of both earlier and later chapters, I would estimate around 40 percent of the book is repeated points or personal annecdotes, usually tangentially related. This book was probably given a Pulitzer Prize on political grounds as it idealistically dismisses all biological determinism, not on literary grounds.
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