Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 1998
Guns, Germs and Steel examines the rise of civilization and the issues its development has raised throughout history.
Having done field work in New Guinea for more than 30 years, Jared Diamond presents the geographical and ecological factors that have shaped the modern world. From the viewpoint of an evolutionary biologist, he highlights the broadest movements both literal and conceptual on every continent since the Ice Age, and examines societal advances such as writing, religion, government, and technology. Diamond also dissects racial theories of global history, and the resulting work-Guns, Germs and Steel-is a major contribution to our understanding the evolution of human societies.
©1997 Jared Diamond (P)2011 Random House
As a scientist myself I have always like Jarad Diamond as he opens up areas I have an non-professional interests. In this work Diamond deals this the differences between the various levels of development between various groups of peoples. Why is European/Asian culture so dominate? Diamond lays out his evidence and arguments well and does not fall into to the trap of push one reason for our current situation over another. However, the audio book is let down with poor narration with almost no inflection in his voice, which made it unpleasant and dry to listen to.
This is a "magnum opus" in all senses of the phrase, and deserved winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The question at the centre of the book is one asked by a New Guinea tribesman "How did your culture and peoples come to dominate us?", and the book opens with the defeat of several thousand Mayan warriors and their God-King, by a few hundred Spanish Conquistadors, armed with guns. Diamond rightly rejects the 19th Century explanation that white Europeans are innately superior, citing examples of the often greater inventiveness, adaptability and intelligence of "aboriginal" peoples. Dismissed too are notions of superior culture (e.g. Niall Fergason's 6 "killer apps" in his book "Civilisation"). Diamond instead looks to geography, and natural history for explanations. We conquered other continents, because we carried more lethal diseases (germs), and had better technology (guns & steel). This in turn was because the continent of Eurasia has many more animals and plants that could be domesticated, carried more diseases (to which we developed immunity) and that both of these, along with cultural advances, spread more easily East-West along similar temperate zones, leading to our earlier abandonment of hunter-gatherer lifestyles, in favour of farming, specialisation and technological advancement. Though the book paints a broad brush history, it delves very specifically into details of the development and clashes among numerous world cultures, and the evidence left to us today in language, technology, lifestyle, diseases and diet. Sometimes, the level of detail he goes into becomes almost overwhelming. The narration is very clear and concise, but the intonation is sometimes flat, and I found myself drifting off at times. It would have been great if the author had narrated it himself. In summary, this is a major and important work, but a long and sometimes difficult book. It is hard, but well worth the effort, if you, like me, seek to understand how and why we got here.
I was defeteated by the text version of this listen despite finding the topic interesting and generally being happy to stick with challenging reads. I don't know whether it was Diamond's prose style or the relatively slow start but for whatever reason I just couldn't get past the first 50 pages. The audible version though was an entirely different proposition. It's well narrated; I stuck with early sections that did a good job of scene setting but gave me problems in print and by the end I was so fascinated by the combination of detailed research and sweeping vision that I listened to it again. Can't recommend this too highly for fans of non-fiction
Buy this audiobook! Diamond has created a tour de force of a publication in Guns, Germs and Steel. His juxtaposition of the development rates in human societies on the different continents citing the possible reasons, unique contributory factors, etc. is a hugely informative method of educating his reader/listenership. Perhaps the only weakness is Diamond's persistent reversion to using New Guineans as the baseline comparative for many of his arguments (his contention that they may be more intellectually agile than others is a bit silly given his original idea that all are born with the same abilities, regardless of geographical location), but he is, I suppose, speaking about what he knows. The terminology used is accessible and the way in which he constructs his arguments is logical and persuasive. A great gateway book for those who may later dive into the more academic worlds of Dawkins and other gene theory biologists.
I enjoy dark stories lightened by humour.
I really enjoyed this audiobook, my wife, who studied anthropology did not! As with so many debates, the lack of accessible specialist literature on a subject of widespread interest leads to other specialisms filling the void, from an anthropologists view this happened here.
The mashing of the huge historical period and the geographical themes is understandable here, Diamond is a Geographer, and sees life in those terms, much as Acemoglu and Robinson in Why Nations Fail, examine life as economists. Obviously, real life is more complicated, but by simplifying the discussions and applying a consistent paradigm,I felt I understood more about development than before.
Yes, I can see why Survival International don't like some of Diamond's narrative, there is certainly less sympathy for native peoples, but so what? If you download this you'll possibly move on to others of this type.
If anthropologists would suggest something to broaden my views I would be happy to access it, otherwise my reading list includes: Ian Morris, Niall Ferguson, Charles C. Mann, and David Landes!
A brilliant foolproof guide to the history of man. Papua new Guinea probably gets a few too many mentions is the only fault.
The content sounded good, but to be honest I'm not sure, because the narration is awful. He sounds half asleep, and his intonation and phrasing doesn't guide where you are in the structure of the book, so it's hard to follow. i gave up in the end - just couldn't stand it
"Informing, Interesting, and Boring all in one"
His point of view is compelling, and gives definite weight to the view that all men are created equal, and 'Whites' for example aren't 'better' than anyone else, but that they had a better deck of cards than other peoples and cultures at a time when it mattered. I have heard others talk on the same issues and topics and make it much more engaging however. And while he titles the book "Guns, germs and steel", given what takes up the majority of the book it should be titled, "Grains, Vegetables and Domestic-able animals".
"Compelling pre-history and emergent history"
This is a fascinating and foundational work that takes a topic (for me) shrouded in obscurity (how and why did civilization emerge in the pattern it did around the globe), and provides a vivid, detailed, and substantially convincing explanation. Thanks to GGS, I see world and cultural history with new eyes. That is pretty much the highest praise I can think of for a book.
I have a personal policy of ignoring (or at least trying to ignore) negative narrator reviews, as I find them always overstated. This reading is on the dry/flat/dull side, but it is still professional. The book is great and one of the most stimulating I have ever listened to. It is dense, but if you don't like fact, analysis, and theory, you wouldn't seek out this sort of book. Extremely highly recommended. It will change the way you see the world.
"A story all should know, not all can endure"
What a wealth of information! So amazing to think about the inevitabilities and chance occurrences that shaped our world. I wish I could recommend this book to all since it should be standard reading(listening). The down side is that its a bit of an endurance challenge to get through. There are a lot of numbers lists and .. vocally read charts. I doubt most could make it through this entire book. An abridged version might be more digestible.
Regardless, give it a try. You'll think about the world in a completely different way. But take your time, or else you'll burn out on this anvil of a book.
"Thousands of years to digest in 8 hours"
An awful lot of research went in to the writing of this book and equally the amount of focus to narrate. I don't think the audible version is the best for me. I've been comparing notes w/my husband who is away in Central America currently. I'm joining him in a couple weeks. He has both the hard copy & Kindle version. I'm looking forward to reviewing both to have a better grasp on the story,
I feel unqualified to answer this question. I've stepped outside my comfort zone w/this book. I'm very attracted to Historical Fictions that bring history alive & put flesh, blood & emotions to characters instead of stating & correlating facts.
I'm a newbie to Audible. I currently live on a small Caribbean island w/few resources. This is a wonderful tool for research & reading entertainment for me. Formerly, when I lived & worked in the US, I was highly addicted to audio tapes. My stepchildren in England are continuing that lifestyle, listening at home, work, driving. I feel Mr. Ordunio's performance was admirable for the continued drive & focus it must have taken to produce this narration, however, this could probably be due to the fact he enjoys relaying such books to his audience. We all strive to excel at something. I would have been miserable to ever undertake such a task, so hats off to Mr. Ordunio's talent!
It's hard to imagine anything was left out, but considering 1,000s of yrs, yes there could be a follow up. If so, I'd break the different aspects into smaller versions..
Considering the massive amount of research compiled to write this book, it was extremely well outlined.
"great book, worth a listen"
Yes, it is a fascinating and convincing interpretation of evolution using contemporary, historical and archeological evidence.
I would have liked to, but it is too long for a one-sitting work. I was driven to get through by the power of the arguments and of the prose.
"Anthropology? Compelling? This book is!"
The Fates of Human Societies is the subheading of this book and it grabbed me. I've recently listened to histories of several societies and I thought this might be interesting in doing some comparisons. What I wasn't ready for was a gallop through the history of man from our first bands of hunter gatherers wandering out of Africa to detailed explanations of why Eurasia was by its geography destined to be more successful than either the Americas and Africa.
If you had told me I was going to be left gaping by linguistic analysis, natural experiments or the result of reviews by evolutionary biologists I wouldn't have believed you but I am agog as what I've heard and the implications it has meant for all the histories of different societies.
I am still digesting what I've heard and I know I shall be back to listen to parts if not all of it again. This book is highly recommended if you want to know why Eurasia came to dominate the world and to understand early civilisations destinies from their geography and biology. It really is compelling listening.
"First part is hard to get through"
Unless you're way into botany, but otherwise its fascinating, interesting perspective. I liked the whole book, and it really takes maybe 2 listens let it really widen your world view.
"So much potential, so little craft"
With all the field work and research available to him Diamond stands at the brink of what could be the most fascinating and significant popular science book of the era. He brings together so many disciplines to show macro trends, chaos theory, the power of germs in fashioning human history. It could all havee been absolutely mind changing. Sadly Diamond is not Bill Bryson. He has a scientific mind and a scientific compulsion for being comprehensive. Where Bryson can spin a story out of a proton, Diamond gets mired in a repetitive catalogue of insights applied meticulously yet tediously to every possible place, time and civilisation. I would really love someone else to re-tell this - someone who has the ability to convert the linear into the prosaic. I gave up after about 50%.
"An important account of civilization’s rise"
Why are some human societies more advanced than others? It's a question that, well into the 20th century, was most often answered in racist terms. Naturally, it was thought, some people developed better technology than others because they were smarter. Diamond tears into such assumptions, making a persuasive case that human technological and cultural advancement have little to do with comparative intelligence, and lot to do with local conditions that put some cultures (or at least their neighbors) on a technological pathway a lot earlier than others. Diamond traces the ultimate keys for the shift from pre-modern to modern back to the areas of agriculture and animal domestication, which, as he explains, would have unlocked a succession of other innovations in centuries to follow. For people who ended a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settled down, the mere fact of one being in one place would have led to a host of other possibilities, such as increased tool use, the development of plant and animal husbandry, the specialization of jobs and religion, the centralization of government and the rise of an administrative class, the development of language, etc, etc.
Diamond explains in (sometimes boring) detail the many disadvantages that the continents of Africa, Australia, and the two Americas had as places for civilization to develop, such as a lack of domesticable flora and fauna, a difficulty in transferring lifestyles between north-south climate zones, and a lack of suitable geography. He points out cases in which African, American, and Australasian cultures progressed as far as was achievable for anyone in their circumstances, and observes that Europe’s disunity compared to China was actually an asset, though China had had a more advanced civilization and had given Europe a number of innovations, as did the Middle East. Then, of course, there is the all-important germs factor -- Europeans in their urban centers were exposed to a variety of pathogens, which were so instrumental in the decimation of New World Indians.
I’m aware that there are (somewhat controversial) books that seek to understand the rise of civilization in terms of genes, rather than geography, and you might consider Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn for that viewpoint. Grains of plausible truth there, but I found Diamond's thesis more convincing. Societies adapt more easily than genes.
I consider GGS an important work because it goes all the way back to human prehistory in establishing the chain of causes that brought about modern civilization, providing many compelling, illustrative refutations of the “genes are destiny” hypothesis. Yes, as some readers have complained, it's true that Diamond favors the distant past and glosses over a lot significant developments in more modern times. However, I don't think that really matters. GGS is a book about ultimate causes, not secondary ones. That is, it seeks to explain what the recently dominant societies of the world have in common in their long-term past, not the specific reasons that specific countries are the dominant geopolitical players at this specific instant in history. If you want insight into that question (or just want to hear someone credit all that is right in the world to your own chosen values), go read more books! But, I think that whatever those authors have to say, their arguments will be refinements to the intuitive truth of Diamond's ultimate causes. In my opinion, there’s a good reason that the phrase “guns, germs, and steel” is now part of the public consciousness.
On the audiobook experience: yes, unfortunately, the reader is really dry, even by my forgiving standards.
Jared Diamond is amazing. He takes highly complex issues and describes them with prose that imply simplicity and dignity. He makes complex and difficult social issues understandable to people like me.
I purchased this audio book based on an Audible recommendation. I subsequently purchased all other works he has authored on Amazon.
The narration is neutral. That is how it should be.
NAT GEO already did. The tag line from that should be: READ THE BOOK!
He simplifies complex scientific thinking without diluting the important facts.
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