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

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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Dec 31, 07

bookshelves: history
Read in December, 2007

The worst grade I ever got in college was in an intro-level anthropology class: a big fat D. It was a good thing I passed, because I needed the credit to satisfy a graduation requirement in Area II, which is the only reason I took the class in the first place, as it didn't interest me much. It was also fairly early in the morning during my senior year, which was strike two against it. And the professor and the subject matter were boring as all get-out. Lots of really dry fact memorization like what date range a certain pottery technique came from and what indigenous people probably developed it.

So you would think Guns, Germs and Steel would be the last thing I would want to read, but in fact I was enthralled. It's all about the approach, you see. Jared Diamond is certainly a good writer who can make the subject matter come alive, and he covers 13,000 years of human history in a single book so he doesn't have time to get bogged down in boring minutiae - he sticks to the really interesting minutiae, which I appreciate. But much, much more importantly, the whole book is an attempt at a theory of explanation. Why did civilizations with temples and writing systems rise in Asia and Mesoamerica but not Australia or sub-Saharan Africa? Why was it so easy for Spain to conquer both the Aztecs and the Incas when the latter had home-field advantage? Why did China never colonize the new world while medieval Europe was still fairly backward? Maybe I skipped Anthro 101 on the days when the professor got into big questions of cause and effect and why the kind of potsherds found on one side of the mountain vs. the other matters, I don't know. (This is actually pretty likely - I skipped that class a lot.) But that is the kind of stuff I find really interesting and, again, that is the entire point of the book. Secondarily the book is a refutation of a lot of casual racism, of the kind that believes non-whites are somehow inferior to whites, and that's why the Aztecs were defeated, why Africans were enslaved, why Native Americans were exterminated, etc. - that they deserved it to some extent because they didn't pull themselves up by their bootstraps like white folks and make themselves comparable societies, and they lost out in survival of the fittest, etc. I have actually encountered people in my life who believe this, and it makes me sad, but I never had the scientific background to effectively offer a counter-argument. This book is the counter-argument, and an enjoyable one to read at that.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Craig YEAH!!!! I'm excited that this book overturned your negative experience with Anthropology!


message 2: by Jen (new) - added it

Jen I have his book collapse if you want to borrow. it's been on my "to read" list for years.


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