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Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed religion --as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war --and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Response to Reviewers’ Comments by Jared Diamond

Excerpts from other reviews

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


From Library Journal
Most of this work deals with non-Europeans, but Diamond’s thesis sheds light on why Western civilization became hegemonic: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.” Those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing writing, government, technology, weapons of war, and immunity to deadly germs. (LJ 2/15/97) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

From Library Journal - Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas
Why is history so dramatically different for peoples around the world? Why did some groups become literate industrial societies with metal tools while others remained nonliterate farming societies, and still others remained hunter-gatherers with stone tools? The resultant inequalities have led historically to the extermination or conquest of some groups by more advanced, literate societies. Biologist Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee, LJ 3/15/92) here combines a study of human history with science, specifically evolutionary biology and geology. His starting point is 11,000 B.C., when large differences began to appear in the rates at which human societies evolved. Diamond examines on a global scale the development of farming, domestication of plants and animals, creation of writing, and advancement of technology. He maintains that it was such environmental benefits as the availability of certain key species and plants, as well as geographical placement, that gave the advantage to Eurasia over the rest of the world, rather than any biological advantages of one race over the others. A provocative book that will appeal to general readers as well as scholars; recommended for most libraries.

From William H. McNeill - The New York Review of Books
This is an artful, informative, and delightful book, full of surprises for a historian like myself who is unaccustomed to examining the human record from the vantage point of New Guinea and Australia, as Jared Diamond has set out to do. . . . He hopes, or perhaps merely wishes, to discover that environmental factors will suffice to explain European dominance. But the dozen pages he uses to “at least indicate the relevance of environmental factors to smaller-scale and shorter-term patterns of history” are thin and contain several dubious statements and at least one clearly incorrect remark. I conclude that Diamond knows a lot about prehistory and linguistics, but that he has never condescended to become seriously engaged with the repeated surprises of world history, unfolding lifetime after lifetime and turning, every so often, upon single, deliberate acts.

From Thomas M. Disch - The New Leader
Liberals who have found themselves embarrassed by the pretensions of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena and by the more preposterous Afrocentrist ideologues who claim that all Greek culture was a theft from a mythical ‘black’ Egypt will be relieved to have, in Diamond’s cogent arguments, an intellectually respectable explanation for why the world ended up in its present shape. It’s no one’s fault, it’s all geography. And I, for one, would like to think he’s right < yet I don’t think he’s entirely proved his case. The scientific bases of his argument are still subject to re-evaluation. . . . Nevertheless, Guns, Germs, and Steel is one long crescendo of inductive logic, and deserves the attention of anyone concerned with the history of mankind at its most fundamental level. It is an epochal work. Diamond has written a summary of human history that can be accounted, for the time being, as Darwinian in its authority.

From Publisher’s Weekly - Publishers Weekly
In a boldly ambitious analysis of history’s broad patterns, evolutionary biologist Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee) identifies food production as a key to the glaring inequalities of wealth and power in the modern world. Dense, agriculture-based populations, unlike relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherers, bred chiefs, kings and bureaucratic “kleptocracies” that transferred wealth from commoners to upper classes. Such bureaucracies, Diamond maintains, were essential to organizing wars of conquest; moreover, farming societies were able to support full-time craft specialists who developed technical innovations and steel weapons. As a result, European conquerors and their colonizing descendants, bringing guns, cavalry and infectious diseases, overwhelmed the native peoples of North and South America, Africa and Australia. Using molecular biological studies, Diamond, a professor at UCLA Medical School, illuminates why Eurasian germs spreading animal-derived diseases proved so devastating to indigenous societies on other continents. Refuting racist explanations for presumed differences in intelligence or technological capability and eschewing a Eurocentric worldview, he argues persuasively that accidental differences in geography and environment, combined with centuries of conquest, genocide and epidemics, shaped the disparate populations of today’s world. His masterful synthesis is a refreshingly unconventional history informed by anthropology, behavioral ecology, linguistics, epidemiology, archeology and technological development.

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