The History Book Club discussion

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
This topic is about Guns, Germs, and Steel
154 views
HEALTH- MEDICINE - SCIENCE > 1. GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL ~ PROLOGUE and CHAPTER 1 (13 - 52) (09/12/10 - 09/19/10) ~ No spoilers, please

Comments Showing 1-50 of 88 (88 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 07, 2010 04:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

For the week of September 12th through September 19th, we are reading approximately the first 40 pages of Guns, Germs and Steel.

This thread will discuss the following Prologue, Chapter and pages:

Week One - September 12th – September 19th -> Prologue and Chapter ONE
p. 13 - 52

Prologue – Yali’s Question and ONE – Up to the Starting Line


We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we have done for other spotlighted reads.

We will kick everything off on September 12th. We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, on iTunes for the ipad, etc. However, be careful, some audible formats are abridged and not unabridged.

Since we will not be starting this book until September 12th, there is a great deal of advance time still remaining to obtain the book and get started.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

Welcome,

~Bentley

Week of
 September 12 (Start)

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

This is a link to the complete table of contents and syllabus thread:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/3...


We are off to a good beginning.

TO SEE ALL WEEK'S THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

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


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 12:23AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
And so we begin:

Welcome everyone to the discussion of a great book by Jared Diamond.

Here is an outline of the general topics of discussion for this week's reading and the scope of this week's assignment.

In the Prologue of the book, Diamond examines the problem of the book itself. He states that "authors are regularly asked by journalists to summarize a long book in one sentence. For this book, (he states) - here is such a sentence: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves."

The layout of the book itself is rather interesting. This book's chapters are divided into four parts. Part I, entitled"From Eden to Cajarmarca," consists of three chapters. The first chapter is part of this week's reading. Chapter 1 "provides a whirlwind tour of human evolution and history, extending from our divergence from apes, around 7 million years ago, until the end of the last Ice Age, around 13,000 years ago. Diamond points out that we shall trace the spread of ancestral humans, from our origins in Africa to the other continents, in order to understand the state of the world just before the events often lumped into the term "rise of civilization" began. Diamond further points out that human development on some continents got a head start in time over developments on others."

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


message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 12:22AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
What do our group's readers think about the basic premise of the book itself. Do you think that this is something that one book can actually cover well and/or prove?

Do you think that Diamond may have bitten off more than he actually can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

And at first glance - what do you think in general about the basic premise itself that "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves."?


message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
One of the major questions of the book surrounds Yali.

After reading the Prologue to Guns, Germs, and Steel, beginning on page 13, the reader comes upon the question which led to Diamond's quest - one that he could not answer very easily if at all at first.

Yali's question seems simple, yet the answer encompasses the whole of human history. He asks, "Why is it you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

Pages 18-25 offer some commonly held answers to this question.

Have you heard of any of these theories before?

How would you initially answer Yali's question?

And what do you think of Diamond's theory that New Guineans could be, on average, "smarter" than Westerners?


message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 12:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
What does the term "rise of civilization' mean to you at the beginning of this book's journey?

At the end of our discussion, we will ask the same question but it would be interesting to examine what folks think the term means or connotes to them prior to reading the book.


message 6: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments rise of civilization to me means cities, literacy, agriculture, metal working.


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Rise of Civilization to me means the time period when some forms of culture developed among any of the peoples of the world. I don't equate rise of civilization for example to the time period when the first inhabitants were allegedly in a particular spot.

I think Patricrk that we are in agreement on some of the things that you mentioned.


Shannon | 75 comments I first have to give a disclaimer: I read this book in 1998 when I heard Diamond interviewed on NPR. I was majoring in history and occaisionally in class we would explore the question: "What would the Native Americans have needed to turn the tables?" It was not a question we spent a great deal of time on, because at my university alternate history was unpopular: we were getting degrees in what happened, not what might have happened.

But Diamond's thesis was very exciting then, because it seems to answer the question why was the European-North American exchange so one sided.

I'm excited to be reading it again to see if his thesis is timeless. But I will try to undo my synthesis of the book so that I don't provide spoilers!

But in response to the particular question of "civilization", it comes from Latin and refers to civilians in a city so it's difficult to tink of it outside of the Fertile Crescent's agricultural revolution to include "stone age cultures". I think that we can lessen the mental dissonance if we remeber the late paleolithic age of Northern Europe. There were differences in the "progress" of societies even within Europe. While the Mediterranean worked its way from stone to bronze like a checklist, the Baltic and North Sea civilizations relished their stone technology to such an extent that they had to have had a high level of social organization: I refer of course with a certain degree of cultural pride to Stone Henge.


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

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
And if you've already started reading, feel free to share your first impressions of the book. What, so far, has been the most interesting story or idea you've found in the book?

Share some of the ideas in the Prologue and Chapter One that are capturing your interest.


message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
What are your thoughts concerning the introduction of Eurocentrist thinking or view of history?

What hypotheses or thesis statements could be made by a Eurocentrist and what are the fallacies in some of these statements?

What did Diamond see wrong with these views?


message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Do you think that some cultures stimulate change and encourage change and development whereas others even today shy away from cultural change or advancement and view change with hostility and therefore reject it?

I sometimes think of some of the countries even today which have seen such little advancement because they seemed attached to the past over the present or future?


message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 07:40PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Do you think that Diamond begins to attach too much weight to geography or do you think he is on to something?

Some anthropologists have disagreed in part with some of Diamonds philosophical statements and feel that geography provides the place at the starting gate, but it's no guarantee of performance when the race is on.

Also do you think that geography played more of a role with ancient civilizations versus countries and peoples today? Why and/or why not?


message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 07:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Do you think that a society has a certain amount of control over its fate -- that it need not be limited by its geographical background?

And what are your thoughts, to adapt Diamond's phrase, on the ultimate cause of culture? For example, why would the Chinese be more interested in stability than change? Of course, even the Chinese are changing some of their views. But maybe some of the countries where there is resistance to change because of religious views might come to mind.

Change, advancement, technology, modern conveniences are seen as dangerous versus signs of normal development for these cultures. Rather than embrace change; they vehemently resist change and feel that the old ways of doing things are vastly better and more pure.


message 14: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 09:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Shannon wrote: "I first have to give a disclaimer: I read this book in 1998 when I heard Diamond interviewed on NPR. I was majoring in history and occaisionally in class we would explore the question: "What would..."


Shannon, we are glad to have you with us for the discussion of this book no matter when you have read it. It is interesting to hear your perspectives of how exciting Diamond's views were in 1998 and also the views regarding "alternate history."

Sometimes it is fun to discuss "what if's" as long as the real history and record of events are not distorted and/or revisionist thinking does not replace the facts. Many people feel today just the way you felt then about alternate history.

I would be very interested to hear about your perceptions now regarding his thinking and what differences you perceive between what you felt and believed at the time about the book and how you feel today. Do you think his thesis is timeless?

I thoroughly enjoyed your post and this segment:

But in response to the particular question of "civilization", it comes from Latin and refers to civilians in a city so it's difficult to tink of it outside of the Fertile Crescent's agricultural revolution to include "stone age cultures". I think that we can lessen the mental dissonance if we remember the late paleolithic age of Northern Europe. There were differences in the "progress" of societies even within Europe. While the Mediterranean worked its way from stone to bronze like a checklist, the Baltic and North Sea civilizations relished their stone technology to such an extent that they had to have had a high level of social organization: I refer of course with a certain degree of cultural pride to Stone Henge.

One of my most exciting visits was the trip to Stone Henge itself so you have reason to be proud. Is your heritage British even though you have stated in your profile that you are from Seattle.

And please by all means participate and join in this discussion.

Bentley


message 15: by Shannon (last edited Sep 12, 2010 10:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shannon | 75 comments Do you think that a society has a certain amount of control over its fate -- that it need not be limited by its geographical background?

I think that some societies can be forgiven control over their fate from lack of access to knowledge. The New Guineans for example as Diamond met them, without TV, radio, or internet could claim innocence to many options for making a decision. But I think that with open access to options from many sources (as first-world citizens have) you begin to run into the area of responsibility.

(ps: I tend to think of my heritage as Celtic and claim as my cultural inheritance everything from the area south west of the Ural Mts. to the Faroe Islands as "my heritage." Others see me as plain nuts.)


message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 12, 2010 10:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Shannon...I doubt you are plain nuts (smile). I am even more intrigued about your heritage now. Interesting.

Open access to options as you pointed out certainly shifts responsibility and accountablility. And I tend to agree with you that the New Guineans for the most part were innocents.

Thank you so much for your input. I would be very interested to hear what other folks think.

Shannon, what from your perspective surprised you the most about the Prologue and Chapter One and did you have any shifts in perspective from when you read this the first time?


message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, "smarter" than Westerners?

And is civilization or the rise of civilization necessarily good?


message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Folks feel free to jump in any time and start a discussion on any question posed.


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "One of the major questions of the book surrounds Yali.

After reading the Prologue to Guns, Germs, and Steel, beginning on page 13, the reader comes upon the question which led to Diamond's quest -..."


I have seen at least some of these answers to Yali's questions before as mentioned in the intro. One intrigues me. The author states that the issue of water control leading to the development of centralized bureaucracy has been overturned by detailed archeological studies. I would like to know more about this because this has been a widely held view. I remember James Lee Burke's writing and TV series Connections mentioning this sequence of events, for example.


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "What do our group's readers think about the basic premise of the book itself. Do you think that this is something that one book can actually cover well and/or prove?

Do you think that Diamond may..."


I think the premise of the book is timely. More and more is being written on not just geography but geography and weather's role in deteriming human history. A geologist named Iain Stewart has written eloquently about this and hosted a fascinating BBC multi-part documentary on geology and human history.


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "What are your thoughts concerning the introduction of Eurocentrist thinking or view of history?

What hypotheses or thesis statements could be made by a Eurocentrist and what are the fallacies in s..."


I think that the world history approach is gaining ground. It seems that the author is trying to take things a step further though and look at what the ultimate causes are. I do think that he overstates his ideas about racism just a bit though.


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "Do you think that some cultures stimulate change and encourage change and development whereas others even today shy away from cultural change or advancement and view change with hostility and there..."

Or is it just that some cultures develop a different relationship with the natural resources that they have?


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "Do you think that Diamond begins to attach too much weight to geography or do you think he is on to something?

Some anthropologists have disagreed in part with some of Diamonds philosophical state..."


The geography and the effect of earth systems on the local landscape have a huge impact on human history. But it is not a one way phenomenon. A lot has to do with how the culture deals with the environment and the local resources.


message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 13, 2010 11:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Garret wrote: "Bentley wrote: "One of the major questions of the book surrounds Yali.

After reading the Prologue to Guns, Germs, and Steel, beginning on page 13, the reader comes upon the question which led to D..."


Regarding this observation, I wish I knew more on that subject (issue of water control, etc) but I do not.

Here is an article you may find interesting:

Hydraulic Bureaucracies and the Hydraulic Mission: Flows of Water, Flows of Power

http://www.water-alternatives.org/ind...

And another one:

Water and Bureaucracy: Origins
of the Federal Responsibility
for Water Resources, 1787-1838

http://lawlibrary.unm.edu/nrj/32/1/02...

Of course, neither of these has anything to do with ancient times, etc.


message 25: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 13, 2010 11:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Garret wrote: "Bentley wrote: "Do you think that some cultures stimulate change and encourage change and development whereas others even today shy away from cultural change or advancement and view change with hos..."

That is an interesting concept. Which cultures do you think preserve their natural resources and what is it about these cultures which propels them to do this.

On the other hand, we have the United States and we can certainly see the opposite point of view; is it our consumerism that propels us to do otherwise much to our own demise?


message 26: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Garret wrote: "Bentley wrote: "What are your thoughts concerning the introduction of Eurocentrist thinking or view of history?

What hypotheses or thesis statements could be made by a Eurocentrist and what are th..."


Garret why do you think that Diamond overstates his ideas of racism; is it to prove that he is not racist, to sell books or for some other reason.


Garret (ggannuch) I think he makes his point about racism and eurocentrist thinking well. It just seemed to me that he went on about it a bit too much. He must think that his audience has assumptions and biases that he has to work hard to dispel. Maybe he has faced this problem in his field and this is why he spends so much time on it. Certainly this has been true in the past. And many of the theories about history need to be seen in that light.

There is a lot of racism in the world but I don't think the general audience reading his book today will require much work to convince.

It is a minor point really. I am enjoying the book and find it stimulating so far. I don't find any need to suggest ulterior motives in bringing up racism as an important issue to deal with, it is pertinent to his book. If anything it is just a point in style of writing that I was bringing up. But thanks for asking.


Garret (ggannuch) Bentley wrote: "Garret wrote: "Bentley wrote: "One of the major questions of the book surrounds Yali.

After reading the Prologue to Guns, Germs, and Steel, beginning on page 13, the reader comes upon the question..."


Thanks! I look forward to reading these.


message 29: by Shannon (last edited Sep 13, 2010 01:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shannon | 75 comments Shannon, what from your perspective surprised you the most about the Prologue and Chapter One and did you have any shifts in perspective from when you read this the first time?

I was surprised that even within the generalities of his "whirlwind" tour of human evolution, we have learned so much in the past decade. Most of the dates that were theoretical at the time of publication are now set in stone, and some of them have been toppled by even earlier dates. These discoveries tend to come like little pebbles, but to stand back and catalogue them makes the advances really clear. His South American dates for 11,000 years ago, were being pushed back to 22,000 years in 1998 and that much older date is pretty broadly accepted now.

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

I did not remeber this assertion at all from my previous reading and was pretty surprised to see it here. It seems to me that we have as scholars moved on from saying that one group of humans is smarter than another group of humans. This assertion can be offensive from both the colonial powers Eurocentric superiority, and also from the noble savage set in amber perspective.

I think Diamond seriously weakens his argument that all humans have an equal evolutionary and biological chance for technological advancement. He would have strengthened his argument to say that barring individual brain damage all human have equal opportunity at intelligence. Especially, because that is what I think he meant by that passage.

And is civilization or the rise of civilization necessarily good?

This question is age-old and has caused push and pull throughout the history of philosophy. On the one hand Western source material present repeatedly with the Able/Cain choice. On the other hand without civilization there are a number of things, especially medical and scientific things that I do not think we could have done without the high level of organization and specialization that comes with civilization -- space travel, infectious disease control, and nutritional health for a few life altering examples.


message 30: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments That is an interesting concept. Which cultures do you think preserve their natural resources and what is it about these cultures which propels them to do this.
..."


I think that cultures that are into preserving their natural resources have to have strong population control as part of their culture. Either they are into heavy warfare with any people who aren't "human" or they practice infanticide or other population control measures.


Rodney | 83 comments Garret wrote: "I think he makes his point about racism and eurocentrist thinking well. It just seemed to me that he went on about it a bit too much. He must think that his audience has assumptions and biases"

On first read, this is my concern as well. The author goes to great length to explain that eurocentrist still primarily equals racism. This concerns me toward his objectivity.

I will be doing my best to maintain an open mind, I am very interested to read more ideas and evidence presented.


message 32: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 07:21AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Rodney wrote: "Garret wrote: "I think he makes his point about racism and eurocentrist thinking well. It just seemed to me that he went on about it a bit too much. He must think that his audience has assumption..."

Hello Rodney,

I am not sure that I totally agree with Diamond's definitive views on that subject either; but there seems to be compelling arguments for many of his other conclusions.

And the beauty of discussing a book is that we do not have to agree with everything the author says (smile). But we can still respect the book and the author's work and still come to our own conclusions.

But you are not alone in your thoughts.


message 33: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Patricrk wrote: "That is an interesting concept. Which cultures do you think preserve their natural resources and what is it about these cultures which propels them to do this.
..."

I think that cultures that a..."


Hello Patrickrk,

That is interesting...how do you explain the Chinese culture then, they do have a strong idea of past and reverence for their culture, they do practice population control; but on the other hand I do not think they are very adept at preserving their natural resources.

I am not sure what you meant by your second sentence in terms of heavy warfare with any people who are not human?


message 34: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 07:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Shannon wrote: "Shannon, what from your perspective surprised you the most about the Prologue and Chapter One and did you have any shifts in perspective from when you read this the first time?

I was surprised t..."


Shannon,

It is astounding in a way that one discovery seems to lead to even more dramatic and mind defying revelations. And you are right about the dates being moved even further back.

Thank you for pointing these facts out to us as some of us read the book for the first time. The book is outdated already in terms of further discoveries. And the dates which were astounding at first have been replaced by others which are even earlier!

I tend to think that Diamond could have expressed himself in a clearer way on the New Guinea point. But I think what he was aligning himself with was the idea that a people's environment did not necessarily have to impact their technological advancements.

I am wondering if for the examples that you have shown whether it is civilization that promoted these advancements or a combination of democratic governments and/or cohesive governing units that may have done so. Of course a civilized people would more often than not be freed up to develop these opportunities and create inventions; where other groups may depend upon their survival by having to hunt for food; which might be further compounded by these same groups having a hard time getting enough food from their environment. This in and of itself would stifle creativity and development because your basic needs for food and water would not have been met.


message 35: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Garret wrote: "I think he makes his point about racism and eurocentrist thinking well. It just seemed to me that he went on about it a bit too much. He must think that his audience has assumptions and biases th..."

Garret, thank you for your explanation...I think you are correct.


message 36: by E.C. (last edited Sep 14, 2010 08:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

E.C. Ambrose (ecambrose) | 2 comments If you are looking for a way to involve younger readers with the ideas in the book, and in particular with Yali's perspective, you might look at Terry Pratchett's book,Nation which is clearly his reply to Diamond--with a dose of wishful thinking.


message 37: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 09:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Thank you E.c. Good add.

However, when doing citations, make sure that they look like post 2 or 1.

Always bookcover (99% of the time it is available - if it isn't just simply say bookcover not available and then add the rest). then the author's photo if available and always the author's link (which is the author's name in text which is linkable)

Here is your add and what it would look like:

Nation by Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett Terry Pratchett

Of course, this is a fantasy book but your suggestion to involve younger readers might appeal to the parents in the group.

Thanks.


message 38: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 435 comments Bentley wrote: "Patricrk wrote: "That is an interesting concept. Which cultures do you think preserve their natural resources and what is it about these cultures which propels them to do this.
..."

I think that c..."


I was only thinking of the "primitive" cultures such as New Guinea and early North America. In those cultures, if you weren't in the same tribe, then you weren't human.


message 39: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Got it..thanks for the explanation Patricrk.


message 40: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
The preface is called Why is World History Like An Onion?

Diamond states: "This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is: Why did history unfold differently on different continents.

So right up front he presents the theme of the book.

He then cites on the same page: "The book's emphasis is on the search for ultimate explanations, and on pushing back the chain of historical causation as far as possible.

Source - page 9

What do you think that Diamond means by historical causation? And why is world history like an onion?


message 41: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 07:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Diamond states the "History before the emergence of writing around 3,000 B.C also receives brief treatment, although it constitutes 99.9% of the five-million year history of the human species."

I wasn't quite sure the point that Diamond was making here.

But Sumerian writing appears to be the oldest form of full fledged writing:

Sumerian writing is the oldest full-fledged writing that archaeologists have discovered. The Ubaidians may have introduced the Sumerians to the rudiments of writing and recorded numerical calculation, which the Sumerians used with the rise in trade and to calculate and to keep records of supplies and goods exchanged. The Sumerians wrote arithmetic based on units of ten -- the number of fingers on both hands. Concerned about their star-gods, they mapped the stars and divided a circle into units of sixty, from which our own system of numbers, and seconds and minutes, are derived.

The Sumerians wrote poetically, describing events as the work of their gods, and they wrote to please their gods. The Sumerians wrote by pressing picture representations into wet clay with a pen, and they dried the clay to form tablets. Instead of developing their writing all at once, as one might expect with divine revelation, they developed their writing across centuries. They streamlined their pictures into symbols called ideograms, and they added symbols for spoken sounds -- phonetic letters -- forming what is called cuneiform.

Here is a write-up on the cuneiform writing.

http://www.ancientscripts.com/sumeria...

Additional links in the glossary.



message 42: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Diamond discusses why he feels that narrowly focused accounts of world history suffer from three disadvantages:

1. People are interested in other societies today not just Western Eurasia.

2. Even for people specifically interested in the shaping of the modern world, a history limited to developments since the emergence of writing cannot provide deep understanding.

Diamond also points out - "It is not the case that societies on the different continents were comparable to each other until 3,000 BC, whereupon western Eurasian societies suddenly developed writing and began for the first time to pull ahead in other respects as well. Instead, already by 3,000 BC, there were Eurasian and North African societies not only with incipient writing but also with centralized state governments, cities, widespread use of metal tools and weapons, use of domesticated animals for transport and traction and mechanical power, and reliance on agriculture and domestic animals for food.

Did the above surprise you. It did me.


message 43: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Since we do not want to forget the preface, I think it is important to review the highlights.

The next point that Diamond makes is that - "Throughout most or all parts of other continents, none of those things existed at the same time; some but not all of them emerged later in parts of the Native Americas and sub-Saharan Africa. but only over the course of the next five millennia; and none of them emerged on Aboriginal Australia.

Why do you think that was?


message 44: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Diamond believes the the above should warn us. He states that he thinks it proves that the roots of western Eurasian dominance in the modern world lie in the preliterate past before 3,000 BC. He explains that what he means by western Eurasian dominance is the following:

"I mean the dominance of western Eurasian societies themselves and of the societies that they spawned on other continents. "


message 45: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 14, 2010 07:47PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Finally, what he has against these narrowly focused accounts of world history is that "a history focused on western Eurasian societies completely bypasses the obvious big question.

Why were those societies the ones that became disproportionately powerful and innovative?

Diamond counters with proximate forces such as the rise of capitalism, mercantilism, scientific inquiry, technology, and nasty germs that killed peoples of other continents when they came into contact with western Eurasians.

But then he asks the following question - Why did all those ingredients of conquest arise in western Eurasia and arise elsewhere only to a lesser degree or not at all?

Some other questions he asks are:

Why didn't capitalism flourish in Native Mexico?

Why didn't mercantilism flourish in sub-Saharan Africa?

Why didn't scientific inquiry flourish in China?

Why didn't advanced technology flourish in Native North America?

Why didn't nasty germs flourish in Aboriginal Australia?

If anybody wants to take a stab at the questions Diamond poses in the preface, please feel free.


message 46: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Does anybody have knowledge of Confucianism in China and why Diamond believes that scientific inquiry was stifled by it. And then he states that Confucian China was technologically more advanced than western Eurasia until about AD 1400!!!

What happened?

On the last page of the preface, it seems Diamond tries to explain why he views world history as an onion.

He states that the modern world constitutes only the surface, and whose layers are to be peeled back in the search for historical understanding.

I thought that it would best to present the ideas in the preface and was not sure if folks have this preface in their editions but he does raise some very interesting questions and points of departure for his quest.


message 47: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Folks, in terms of the reader's guide, these are the primary questions that we should have answered and discussed in these assigned pages although one is answered throughout the book. I will place these questions here again and ask folks to jump in and extract what Diamond had to say to answer these questions in the Prologue and Chapter One.

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.



Shannon | 75 comments I am wondering if for the examples that you have shown whether it is civilization that promoted these advancements or a combination of democratic governments and/or cohesive governing units that may have done so. Of course a civilized people would more often than not be freed up to develop these opportunities and create inventions; where other groups may depend upon their survival by having to hunt for food; which might be further compounded by these same groups having a hard time getting enough food from their environment. This in and of itself would stifle creativity and development because your basic needs for food and water would not have been met.

Speaking very carefully so as to avoid spoliers, since your question is very close to the book's thesis:

In hunter-gatherer cultures nearly every member of the society is involved in food production. In early agricultural societies it is even more extreme: everyone is involved in food production all the time, and that food is usually a single staple and so the diet is often pretty bad.

As agricultural societies advance some members of the society specialize in non-food producing tasks and it is these specialized people who end up being rulers, relgious leaders, scholars, trademen, merchants and so forth.

So, I think that sedentary life led to greater technological advances: Think of the Romans who could read the Greek and Egyptian scholars, or the Muslim and Irish scholars during the middle ages who preserved Greek and Roman scholarship. In this instance you need a sedintary lifestyle so that you can store the books! (Which is an unusual arguement for me. I usually stand for the static nature of oral history.)


message 49: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 15, 2010 05:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
An excellent post Shannon and you did an admirable job of straddling the fence and avoiding spoilers.

The free time allowed the advancement that was needed to develop as a people...I guess if you have to feed your belly and those of your family; you do not have much time on any day to sit and contemplate or store books or become scholarly. Like folks say...you have to eat.


Shannon | 75 comments Does anybody have knowledge of Confucianism in China and why Diamond believes that scientific inquiry was stifled by it. And then he states that Confucian China was technologically more advanced than western Eurasia until about AD 1400!!!

What happened?


First, the second part of your question: prior to 1400 China had huge treasure fleets plying the seas buying spices, and trading silks, porcelin, and tea with her neighbors. At this time China had a system of tribute-states throughout Asia and especially SEA and the Indonesian Islands. This was a pretty benign form of colonialism: all the local ruler had to do was pay the annual tribute, and the benefits of Chinese scholarship was received in return, in some cases -- especially the northern Vietnamese state, at the time called Annam, I think. China also had moveable type, paper money and so forth.

They were poised to take over the Arab shipping lanes and in the opinions of some historians do to the world's geography what Europe did. Instead there were barbarian invasions along the north and eastern borders -- typical to Chinese history -- and the emperor decided in focus on national security instead. He cancelled the treasure fleets and they never sailed again. By the time the barbarians were squelched, Europe stood where China had stood, and there was a new Emperor with a new internal focus.

Before I talk about Confucianism: treasure fleets were huge! There were a lot of boats in the fleet, and the boats were big enough to rival some of our modern ocean-going vessels. Either the Discovery Channel, or the History Channel did a program on a sunken treasure ship some years ago which was very interesting. I'm very bad at numbers so these may be wrong but I want to say that the tresure fleet had 20-60 ships, that the ships could easily hold 20 of Columbus's caravels and they had 5 masts. I could be wrong, but the answer is: think big.

China's culture seems over the passage of time to value stasis. Early in their history they had a period which their scholars call the "Warring States Period". Basically, lots of wars with everybody's neighbor. After that period the first dynasty (Chin?) began with a period called "Burning Books and Burying Scholars" a poetic way to standardize the knowledge and philosophy of a people. Line them up choose the books and scholar who toe the line and burn the books which are wrong and bury (alive) the scholars who don't. A benefit of this period was also the standardize the widths of the roads.

Confucianism is all about the relationships between people How the emperor relates to the vizier, the vizier to the lords, the lords to the people. How the father related to his wife, his children and his friends. How students relate according to age to each other. It's all very standardized. The only way in the confucian system to break the mold is to thake the confucian civil service test and not everyone (ie peasants) would be in a position to do that.

The confucian system was the accepted way to live. If you contrast it with the down right rebellious Tao -- going by way of the path of least resistance -- you can see that confucianism is pretty orthodox in its approach. If you were to make a technological or scientific discovery and you were not the person who should have made that discovery you may as well not have made it at all for all the difference that it would make. (There's one more answer to this, but I think it would be a spoiler, so I'll return to thsi subject at the end of the book.)


« previous 1
back to top