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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

(Civilizations Rise and Fall #1)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  369,015 ratings  ·  12,941 reviews
"Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope ... one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years."

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a national bestseller: the global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.

In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (Will
Paperback, 498 pages
Published 2005 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published May 9th 1997)
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Average rating 4.04  · 
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 ·  369,015 ratings  ·  12,941 reviews

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Jan 11, 2008 rated it did not like it
This is what happens when you take an intelligent person, and casually make a few mentions of a field of study they have no knowledge of.

Mr. Diamond, NOT an anthropologist, takes Marvin Harris' theory of cultural materialism and uses it to explain everything in life, history, and the current state of the world.

Materialism is a way of looking at human culture which, for lack of a better way to explain it easily here, says that people's material needs and goods determine behavior and culture. For
Dec 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
[Original review, Dec 10 2008]

I liked this book, and it taught me a bunch of things I hadn't known before I read it. Jared Diamond has clearly had a more interesting life than most of us, and spent significant amounts of time in a wide variety of different kinds of society, all over the world. He says he got the basic idea from a conversation he had back in the 70s with a friend in New Guinea. His friend, who later became a leader in the independence movement, wanted to talk about "cargo" (manuf
Will Byrnes
“Why you white men have so much cargo [i.e., steel tools and other products of civilization] and we New Guineans have so little?”
Jared Diamond is a biologist, who had a passion for studying birds, particularly the birds of New Guinea. But as he came to know and appreciate the many native people he met in his work, the question asked by a New Guinean named Yani remained with him. Why was it that westerners had so much relative to New Guinean natives, who had been living on that land for forty
Jul 27, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Terrible. This is one of those books which seems at face value as if it has an interesting and persuasive thesis, and indeed there are a couple of reasonable points in here, but by and large Guns, Germs, and Steel is a poorly written book, shoddily argued and riddled with factual errors. Jared Diamond's thesis is that the differences which one can observe in technological and economic development around the world do not result from racial differences but rather from geographical ones: the variet ...more
Mike Shapiro
May 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Author Jared Diamond's two-part thesis is: 1) the most important theme in human history is that of civilizations beating the crap out of each other, 2) the reason the beat-ors were Europeans and the beat-ees the Aboriginees, Mayans, et. al. is because of the geographical features of where each civilization happened to develop. Whether societies developed gunpowder, written language, and other technological niceties, argues Diamond, is completely a function of whether they emerged amidst travel-a ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond

The book attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 trans-disciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of Californ
Michael Finocchiaro
It took me a while to complete Diamond's book (and admittedly I also distracted myself with a few Roth novels in the meantime) because of the density of the text and the variety of ideas presented. The central thesis that it is not racial biology that determines the victors in history but rather a complex combination of agriculture, geography, population density, and continental orientation is a fascinating and compelling one. The style is not academic (and did admittedly put me off by using sen ...more
Feb 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
This may be the most over-rated book in the history of book rating. The point he is making is that we in Western Civilazation haven't built skyscrapers, made moon landings, mass produced automobiles, eradicated polio (or for that matter lived indoors with running water) while aborigines in certain remote outposts still hunt and gather in isolated tribes because we are inherently any smarter or more industrious than those individuals. Of course he is mostly right, but why in the 21st century is t ...more
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Misleading! The actual title should be Germs, More Germs and a bit about Steel And Guns, but not very much on those last two really...I mean, we want to put Guns first because it's more attention-grabbing than Germs, but let's face it, this book is mostly about Germs.

Why has no publishing house knocked down my door trying to obtain my book titling services yet?!
Jim Fonseca
[Edited, map added 3/12/22]

Did you ever wonder if there is a certain inevitability in the way world civilization and history has evolved? Jared Diamond’s work Guns, Germs and Steel argues, in effect, that the giant Eurasian continent (Europe and Asia combined) was predestined to take over the world.


Everything conspired in favor of Eurasia: climate, vegetation, topography, variety of wild animals available to be domesticated, population distribution, mineral resources and even bacteria.

Mar 29, 2012 marked it as don-t-count
Stopped on page 88 for the time being, because, man, do people ever suck. We historically sucked. But since humans used to invade other humans' territory and do a lot of killing, at least things have changed now.

Oh, wait.
Joshua Parkinson
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and a band of 168 Spaniards punctured the heart of the Inca Empire and proceeded to capture its emperor, decimate its citizens, and plunder its gold. Why didn’t it happen the other way around? Why didn't the Incas sail to Europe, capture Charles V, kill his subjects, and loot his castles and cathedrals? Jared Diamond attempts to answer this question in Guns, Germs & Steel.

Why have Europeans tended to dominate other peoples on other continents? Does it have something t
Riku Sayuj

Jared sticks to the basic premise and plugs every hole in his argument so well to construct a magnificent explanation of the evolution of societies. What makes the book particularly good is the intimate hands-on experience that Jared has on the wide variety of fields required to attempt a book like this.

The last four or five chapters start to get very repetitive, but except for that Diamond has taken a stunningly large scale view of history that keeps you enthralled throughout the 13,000 years
Jul 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Purist

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist,
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

That bit of Ogden Nash whimsy came into my head as I thought about Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, a reflection on human history through the lens of e
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Without overdoing the pun, everything by Diamond shines and shines. This is his greatest work. Occasionally in life you can feel a book shifting the way you see the world, shifting what you thought you knew about the world. There is a documentary made around this book, but read the book - trust me.
Orhan Pelinkovic
Why didn't the indigenous people of the Americas, Oceania, and sub-equatorial Africa conquer Europe and its people? Why was it the other way around?

Why didn't agriculture, cities, the wheel, writing, craftsmanship of metal processing originate in Europe? Why did it instead originate in the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia) and its surrounding areas? These are some very intriguing questions discussed in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) written by Jared Diamond.

This book i
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
“In short, Europe’s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography—in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate.”
- Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel


This is one of those books
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audio-book
Diamond attempts to "provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years," AND answer the question of why some cultures thrive while others perish or are conquered by others. There is a mind-boggling amount of information presented: some of it is fascinating, some of it seems repetitive, and overly long. When my husband, who is a big fan of "farming books," thinks that there was WAY TOO MUCH about agriculture. . . well, that kind of tells you something.

I listened to this on audio, (a
Dec 27, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a thought-provoking, deeply interesting, controversial book investigating the reasons behind the bafflingly different rate of development of human societies in different parts of the world.

The main thesis of the author is that geographic aspects represent the overwhelming ultimate set of causal factors, and they played out mostly at the very beginning of societal development, mainly in prehistoric times.

The author uses very broad brush strokes to develop his main themes, both in geogra
Infinite Jen
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On the Onerousness of Zebra Domestication and Other Such Digressions on the Nature of Wildly Divergent Cultural Outcomes Contingent on Flora and Fauna Nurtured by Disparate Geographical Conditions - Exordium.

I, Zoologist supreme, heave into view of my motley assemblage of eager young minds. Hands clasped behind my back, the profile of my chin angled just so as I strafe back and forth before the striated equine beast. A creature whose eyes, even now, intimate a kind of crazed potential energy suf
Cody VC
Jan 25, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
I will say this: he makes some interesting points about geographical and geological determinism and the potential validity thereof. Everything else, however, is basically shit. The Pulitzer this book got must have been the world's biggest and most expensive A for effort.

Diamond writes in his introduction that a multi-discipline effort "would be doomed from the outset, because the essence of the problem is to develop a unified synthesis. That consideration dictates single authorship, despite all
May 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
I have this awesome picture in my head in which Jared Diamond did not write this book. He instead wrote a detailed, engaging account of the history of plant and animal domestication.

"But Rhiannon," you might say, "doesn't that remove his entire thesis, that geography determined just about everything about the course of human civilization?"

And, I would respond yes, it does.

"And, isn't that kind of removing the whole book?"

No, I counter. It just removes the douche-y social Darwinist parts. Plus, i
Jun 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I have found this book a bit difficult to write about. It is interesting in that it has gone into areas that I have never really considered. Would I have given thought that the ability to domesticate plants and animals was a consideration when thinking of the continental differences between the east west axis of Eurasia compared to the north-south divide in both the Americas and Africa? Probably not.

I suppose this is a book that is more based on the environment of peoples over the last 13,000 y
Nandakishore Mridula
What a terrific book. 😍

One sentence review: Human history is a function of geography.

Detailed review to follow!
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jared Diamond asks the question: why did technology develop along different lines and at different times throughout the world and then goes on to study the reasons why.

Using economic, sociological, anthropological, biological and botanical evidence to examine and analyze his hypotheticals, Diamond goes on to map out the world not just in geography but in time, providing a unique human history going back tens of thousands of years and culminating with how we’ve ended up – with some people typing
Valliya Rennell
3 stars

Guns, Germs, and Steel was recommended to me by my father. He asked me to read it and tell him what I thought of what Jared Diamond says. Generally speaking, this book outlines the different factors that contribute to a society succeeding and thriving, and how these factors have created the world we live in today. To answer my father, I said that I enjoyed it. It made me reflect a lot, it helped me form arguments in my IB ESS class, and in general gave me a nice insight into human history
Philip Allan
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an ambitious book. It seeks to provide a simple rationale to explain why inequalities exist between the peoples of the world. What makes its approach fresh is that the analysis is from someone who is neither an economist nor a historian. Broadly speaking, Diamond pulls this off. His style is readable and his arguments well laid out. His conclusions about the importance in early human history of having the right plants and animals to promote the vital first step for a civilisation – that ...more
Richard Derus
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up because the PBS adaptation was better than I had expected it to be

I read this in the 1990s and was blown away by the fact that environmental determinism was back in the forefront of the have-vs-have-not debate. Well told tale. Persuasive, goodness knows. Maybe even partially correct, who knows, since we're facing the consequences of climate change on our civilization and they aren't good. They're only going to get worse, too. So who do we look to for models of ho
Michael Perkins
Jun 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Timely excerpt from the book....

Evolution of epidemic infectious diseases

The main killers of humans since the advent of agriculture have been acute, highly infectious, epidemic diseases that are confined to humans and that either kill the victim quickly or, if the victim recovers, immunize him/her for life. Such diseases could not have existed before the origins of agriculture, because they can sustain themselves only in large dense populations that did not exist before agriculture, hence they a
Sense of History
This book contains all the good stuff that a scientific approach can provide to the fundamental issues of life and history. Diamond puts all his cards on the table, presents his method of reasoning in a very clear way, clearly defines his starting-point questions, tests the hypotheses on his study object and weighs the value of his findings. This is like science should always be: clear, open and honest.

Diamond is wondering where the dominance of the Eurasian continent in world history is coming
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Jared Mason Diamond is an American geographer, historian, ornithologist, and author best known for his popular science books The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse, The World Until Yesterday, and Upheaval. He is Professor of Geography at UCLA and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

Other books in the series

Civilizations Rise and Fall (3 books)
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
  • Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

Articles featuring this book

Podcast junkies will know this already, but the audio format is a surprisingly great way to discover more about nearly any topic that catches...
45 likes · 6 comments
“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves” 166 likes
“In short, Europe’s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography—in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate.” 83 likes
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