Scott Gates's Reviews > Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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's review
Feb 14, 2008

it was ok
Read in February, 2008

What can you say about a book that covers 13,000 years of human history, especially if you skipped large chunks of it?

Chapter 18 is a microcosm of the arguments of the book as a whole, so if you’re in it only for the big ideas (as I was), you should pick this off the bookstore’s shelf and read through that chapter. A lot of the book goes into the scientific detail behind the big ideas, and I am not equipped to find much of this interesting. With a book like this, there’s always the question of how bored you’re going to be reading it. (There’s a quote on the back from a professor of population studies from Stanford; I found it endearing that he considered this book to be a page-turner).

Obviously, Diamond discusses history with immense brushstrokes: “Eurasia” (i.e., the whole of Europe and Asia together) is spoken of as one entity throughout the book, and the scope of conflicts is on the lines of Old World technologies and diseases overwhelming New World societies, as opposed to why Germany over Poland or Japan over the Philippines.

(Separately, I didn’t understand why there were photographs of random people in two sections of the book. There is no reference made to these photographs (from the little I read) and they seem to be there solely to remind us that people from different places look different.)

It’s likely this book is better than my reading of it. It’s worthwhile because it gives you ideas about big things (the word big again, yes) that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise: like that the enormous east-west axis of Eurasia (as opposed to the more north-south orientation of Africa and Americas) allowed for more diffusion, communication, and trade between societies w/similar climates, and that in addition there were more types of domesticatable mammals in Eurasia than anywhere else. And that from this follows everything else.

*Assuming* there are clear reasons for such things as why certain societies became more technologically advanced and conquered others (which is an assumption the author makes), these reasons *may* be as good as any.

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