OMG, I finally finished this book! The subject matter was interesting and compelling, but Diamond's writing is TERRIBLE!
Diamond's thesis is that civil...moreOMG, I finally finished this book! The subject matter was interesting and compelling, but Diamond's writing is TERRIBLE!
Diamond's thesis is that civilizations become powerful and dominant primarily because of their ability to become food producers based on their origin's geography, rather than because of inherent racial, genetic, or even cultural factors (although culture eventually plays a part in established civilizations). Geography factors in several ways: the availability of original/native plants and animals suitable for domestication; the orientation of the continent (N-S vs E-W); the continuity of similar ecosystems through which to spread agriculture; the lack or presence of geographical barriers (mountains, deserts, jungles, open ocean) to exchange of ideas (language, writing, technology, innovation). Thus Eurasia benefited in all of these factors, whereas Africa and the Americas, and the large islands/small continents (New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand) did not.
Diamond takes you on a long, rambling explanation of these ideas, sometimes repeatedly depending on the focus of any given chapter. His writing style itself is a weird mixture of philosophical treatise and informal lecture. I rather imagine an eccentric, introverted professor-type giving a lecture, totally unaware of anything. If you hang in there you'll learn a lot, but it's sometimes hard to follow or it gets lost in asides.
I liked several things about this book: the thesis is compelling; the discussion of how linguistics and genetics and archaeology can tell us about the origins and movements of civilizations is amazing (again, I lament my missed calling to linguistics); and Diamond didn't focus only on the big civilizations of Europe, China, and Egypt -- he was able to draw examples from a wide variety of historical examples. Reading this book really has affected my perception of modern civilizations, in particular in regard to the domestication of plants and animals. It also made me think about recent trends back toward local agriculture, and whether that is sustainable for large, complex civilizations (which incidentally informed my thoughts about the post-apocalyptic survival story in Dies the Fire. I also enjoyed reading both the epilogue (addressing "why Europe and not China" in the geographically lucky Eurasian continent) and the Afterword (written for the 2003 edition).
There is a television (National Geographic) presentation of this material which I recently watched, to compare it to the book. The video is a 3 hour series which addresses 1) The rise of agriculture and the concept of East-West geography; 2) Guns and Germs, specifically focusing on the Inca conquest scenario; 3) Africa, which has had a very interesting mix of good and bad luck, and continues to struggle with germs.
Having seen the video, which was interesting, I decided to raise my rating of this book from 3 to 4 stars. The book, despite Diamond's sore lack of a competent editor, covers the thesis much more thoroughly, with a lot of useful details and examples. It continues to affect my world view. Interestingly it also colors my thinking on how one might set up a completely fictional world (think, fantasy/sci-fi), in terms of geography and the power of civilizations based on that geography.(less)
One of those not-too-distant future books about life as we might imagine it. Some of the technology ideas are not so far off what we are coming to tod...moreOne of those not-too-distant future books about life as we might imagine it. Some of the technology ideas are not so far off what we are coming to today.(less)
I usually don't read mysteries, but this one had been sitting on my virtual shelf for a while. I read in one evening (or night, as it is now after 1am...moreI usually don't read mysteries, but this one had been sitting on my virtual shelf for a while. I read in one evening (or night, as it is now after 1am).
I liked a lot about this: The dialogue was snappy and fairly realistic. It had me guessing the whole way through and I was not sure whether my guesses would be right or wrong. There wasn't too much time spent on gratuitous character development. I was a fun read, very much in the vein of my favorite tv mystery dramas like Monk, Law & Order, and Murder She Wrote . (I hope The author will take that as a compliment.)(less)
A very quick read and an interesting true crime story set against a backdrop of late Victorian, early industrial, immigrant dominated New York City an...moreA very quick read and an interesting true crime story set against a backdrop of late Victorian, early industrial, immigrant dominated New York City and the advent of sensationalist, around-the-clock "journalism". A rollicking read.(less)
When I was a kid, there was a program on public radio called "Radio Reader" in which a man read books in one-hour segments, day after day. It must hav...moreWhen I was a kid, there was a program on public radio called "Radio Reader" in which a man read books in one-hour segments, day after day. It must have been 1981 that we heard this story, because that was the year my family moved to a new house. That first summer we didn't really have any TV, so I think this was one of the things we did.
I remember really loving it in the way that I loved Anne of Green Gables, never wanting the story to end.
Correction: It was 1985. I found the RadioReader.net website. The program still exists!(less)
I read this after returning from a trip to Siberia (Lake Baikal area), where I had spent some time learning about the mixing of Shamanism and Lamaism...moreI read this after returning from a trip to Siberia (Lake Baikal area), where I had spent some time learning about the mixing of Shamanism and Lamaism (Buddhism). One of my fellow travelers was reading this book and so I decided to read it upon my return.
It is a biography of Ghengis Khan from pre-birth to post-death. Most people think of him as a tyrant through-and-through, but in spite of his brutality that he was quite rightly known for (i.e. total destruction of sieged cities, including women and children), such destruction almost always followed attempted diplomacy (although the terms were invariably to obtain dominance and tribute). And even after Ghenghis' conquering of disparate peoples, he usually allowed their own culture to persist and even be self-governed -- the primary rule being that they provide tribute.
I think most westerners don't realize that Ghenghis' influence in the transmission of ideas (accounting, writing) across Eurasia was so strong. The Mongolian empire really did some amazing things.
So this book tells the history of Ghengis Khan in both a persona way, telling of his personal relationships with his wife, brother, and best friend/enemy (frenemy?) and a cultural-historical way, describing the "professional" work of Ghengis as a leader of a large army and empire.
This book really influenced the way I look at western culture and history and found me rooting for the Mongols.(less)