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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 24, 2010 02:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This will be the thread where you will find the syllabus for the upcoming spotlighted read which will begin in September.

You can take a look at the book on google:

Here is a write-up on the book itself from goodreads:

Life isn't fair--here's why: Since 1500, Europeans have, for better & worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. In Guns, Germs & Steel, Jared Diamond explains the reasons why things worked out that way. It's an elemental question.

Diamond is certainly not the 1st to ask it. However, he performs a singular service by relying on scientific fact rather than specious theories of European genetic superiority. Diamond, a UCLA physiologist, suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals & the free flow of information.

The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government & communication, & increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China didn't.

(For example, the Europeans used the Chinese invention of gunpowder to create guns & subjugate the New World.) Diamond's book is complex & a bit overwhelming. But the thesis he methodically puts forth--examining the "positive feedback loop" of farming, then domestication, then population density, then innovation etc.--makes sense.

Written without bias, Guns, Germs & Steel is good global history.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond Jared Diamond by Jared Diamond

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 24, 2010 02:52PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Actually, the spotlighted thread does about 50 pages a week and I think this will be easier than Gibbon. Additionally, I got behind because of surgery.

Also, I find that folks catch up as they can...consider The First World War book..folks are still posting there.

And that is fine too. Folks can go at their own pace. Possibly I can set up a spoiler thread so that folks who want to move faster can and it won't affect the non spoiler threads.

You two have been great; I think this book will be an easier read.


Michael Flanagan (loboz) I am looking forward to reading and discussing this book. I have had it on my list to read for a while now.

Patrick Sprunger I would love a "spoiler" thread so that we can talk about it at our own pace if that pace happens to be faster than 50 pages a week. That's a great idea - very democratic.

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Yes, that way folks who could care less about spoilers can talk away and those folks who do not want the story line ruined for them and want to go at a more leisurely rate can do that too.

message 6: by Ray (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ray (gorlith) | 5 comments I just recently read this book since we chose it as our book of the month on the Art of Manliness book club for May. I Thought it was an awesome read, although admittedly tough at times. Looking forward to hearing some discussion on it, since the AoM book club voted it as the book and then apparently fell apart.

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Sorry to hear that Ray and I hope our discussion goes well. Look forward to your comments. It seems like our spotlighted reads are always the tougher ones. But we keep the threads open so that folks can always catch up.

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Folks, there have always been spoiler threads; tons of them in the Roman discussion of Gibbon's book; the weekly threads are non spoiler but there are plenty of threads for discussions as a whole.

However, I would not advise those folks who do not want the story ruined to go to these threads until they have read the book unless they do not mind spoilers. So keep that it mind. We are more focused on the folks who want to go through a book leisurely and usually do not get through a dense book because they can't keep up.

However, I will place a thread for discussion of the book as a whole with a big spoiler warning.

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the syllabus for Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies which will be kicked off on September 12th.


Guns, Germs and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies

Table of Contents

Prologue – Yali’s Question
The regionally differing courses of history 13

Part One – From Eden to Cajamarca 33

ONE: Up to the Starting Line
What happened on all the continents before 11,000 B.C.? p. 35

TWO: A Natural Experiment of History
How geography molded societies on Polynesian islands p. 53

THREE: Collision at Cajamarca
Why the Inca emperor Atahuallpa did not capture King Charles I of Spain
p. 67

Part Two – The Rise and Spread of Food Production 83

FOUR: Farmer Power
The roots of guns, germs and steel p. 85

FIVE: History’s Haves and Have-Nots
Geographic differences in the onset of food production p. 93

SIX: To Farm or Not To Farm
Causes of the spread of food production p. 104

SEVEN: How to Make an Almond
The unconscious development of ancient crops p. 114

EIGHT: Apples or Indians
Why did peoples of some regions fail to domesticate plants p. 131

NINE: Zebras, Unhappy Marriages and the Anna Karenina Principle
Why were most big wild mammal species never domesticated? p. 157

TEN: Spacious Skies and Tilted Axes
Why did food production spread at different rates on different continents? p. 175

Part Three – From Food to Guns 193

ELEVEN: Lethal Gift of Livestock
The evolution of germs p. 195

TWELVE: Blueprints and Borrowed Letters
The evolution of writing p. 215

THIRTEEN: Necessity’s Mother
The evolution of technology p. 239

FOURTEEN: From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy
The evolution of government and religion p. 265

PART FOUR – Around the World in Five Chapters 293

FIFTEEN: Yali’s People
The histories of Australia and New Guinea p. 295

SIXTEEN: How China Became Chinese
The History of East Asia p. 322

SEVENTEEN: Speedboat to Polynesia
The history of the Austronesian expansion p. 334

EIGHTEEN: Hemispheres Colliding
The histories of Eurasia and the Americas compared p. 354

NINETEEN: How Africa Became Black
The History of Africa p. 376

Epilogue – The Future of Human History as Science 403

2003 Afterward: Guns, Germs, and Steel Today p. 426

Acknowledgments p. 441

Further Readings p. 442

Credits p. 472

Index p. 475

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 28, 2010 04:59PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod

Week One - September 12th – September 19th -> Prologue and Chapter ONE
p. 13 - 52
Prologue – Yali’s Question and ONE – Up to the Starting Line

Week Two – September 20th – September 26th -> Chapters TWO and THREE p. 53 – 82
TWO – A Natural Experiment of History and THREE – Collision of Cajamarca

Week Three - September 27th - October 3rd -> Chapters FOUR, FIVE and SIX p. 83 - 113
FOUR – Farmer Power and FIVE – History’s Haves and Have-Nots and SIX – To Farm or Not To Farm

Week Four – October 4th – October 10th -> Chapters SEVEN and EIGHT p. 114 - 156
SEVEN – How To Make An Almond and EIGHT – Apples or Indians

Week Five - October 11th – October 17th -> Chapters NINE and TEN p. 157 - 193
NINE - Zebras, Unhappy Marriages and the Anna Karenina Principle and TEN – Spacious Skies and Tilted Axes

Week Six – October 18th – October 24th -> Chapters ELEVEN and TWELVE p. 195- 238
ELEVEN – Lethal Gift of Livestock and TWELVE – Blueprints and Borrowed Letters

Week Seven – October 25th – October 31st -> Chapter THIRTEEN p. 239 - 264
THIRTEEN – Necessity’s Mother

Week Eight – November 1st – November 7th -> Chapter FOURTEEN p. 265 - 293
FOURTEEN – From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy

Week Nine – November 8th – November 14th - > Chapters FIFTEEN and SIXTEEN
p. 295 - 333
FIFTEEN – Yali’s People and SIXTEEN – How China Became Chinese

Week Ten – November 15th – November 21st - > Chapters SEVENTEEN and EIGHTEEN p. 334 - 375
SEVENTEEN – Speedboat to Polynesia and EIGHTEEN – Hemispheres Colliding

Week Eleven – November 22nd – November 28th - > Chapter NINETEEN and 2003 AFTERWARD p. 376 – 440
NINETEEN – How Africa Became Black and AFTERWARD – 2003 Afterward: Guns, Germs and Steel Today

Week Twelve – November 29th – December 5th - > Further Readings p. 442 - 471 and Book as a Whole

Guns, Germs and Steel The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond Jared Diamond Jared Diamond

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 03, 2010 06:47PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the Reading Group Guide and Discussion Questions put together by the publisher. We will discuss all of these.

1. What are the other commonly espoused answers to "Yali's questions," and how does Jared Diamond address and refute each of them?

2. Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, "smarter" than Westerners?

3. Why is it important to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes?

4. Do you find some of Diamond's methodologies more compelling than others? Which, and why?

5. What is the importance of the order of the chapters?
Why, for example, is "Collision at Cajamarca" - which describes events that occur thousands of years after those described in the subsequent chapters - placed where it is?

6. How are Polynesian Islands "an experiment of history"? What conclusions does Diamond draw from their history?

7. How does Diamond challenge our assumptions about the transition from hunter-gathering to farming?

8. How is farming an "auto-catalytic" process? Hows does this account for the great disparities in societies, as well as for the possibilities of parallel evolution?

9. Why did almonds prove domesticable while acorns were not? What significance does this have?

10. How does Diamond explain the fact that domesticable American apples and grapes were not domesticated until the arrival of Europeans?

11. What were the advantages enjoyed by the Fertile Crescent that allowed it to be the earliest site of development for most of the building blocks of civilization? How does Diamond explain the fact that it was nevertheless Europe and not Southwest Asia that ended up spreading its culture to the rest of the world?

12. How does Diamond refute the argument that the failure to domesticate certain animals arose from cultural differences? What does the modern failure to domesticate, for example, the eland suggest about the reasons why some peoples independently developed domestic animals and others did not?

13. What is the importance of the "Anna Karenina principle"?

14. How does comparing mutations help one trace the spread of agriculture?

15. How does civilization lead to epidemics?

16. How does Diamond's theory that invention is, in fact, the mother of necessity bear upon the traditional "heroic" model of invention?

17. According to Diamond, how does religion evolve along with increasingly complex societies?

18. How is linguistic evidence used to draw conclusions about the spread of peoples in China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and Africa?

19. What is the significance of the differing outcomes of Austronesian expansion in Indonesia and New Guinea?

20. How does Diamond explain China's striking unity and Europe's pesistent disunity? What consequences do these conditions have for world history?

21. How does Diamond refute the charge that Australia is proof that differences in the fates of human societies are a matter of people and not environment? In what other areas of the world could Diamond's argument be used?

22. What other aspects of Diamond's evidence do lay readers have to take on faith? Which aspects are explained?

23. Diamond offers two tribes, the Chimbu and the Daribi, as examples of differing receptivities to innovation. Do you think he would accept larger, continent-wide differences in receptivity? Why or why not? How problematic might cultural factors prove for Diamond's arguments?

24. How, throughout the book, does Diamond address the issues he discussed in the last few pages of his final chapter, when he proposes a science of human history?

message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Folks, the discussion of Guns, Germs and Steel has begun.

Here is the link so that folks can join in.

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