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Summary

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

What members say

Average customer ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Samuel
  • Lincoln, United Kingdom
  • 10-04-13

Controversial and Judgemental

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!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jim
  • London
  • 22-01-14

The definitive Audible purchase

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

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • EuroGamer
  • HERTFORD, United Kingdom
  • 22-12-12

An excellent work slightly spoilt

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.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A Magnum Opus - in every sense.

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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • David
  • Leighton Buzzard, United Kingdom
  • 05-12-15

Really interesting take on World history

Jared Diamond approaches World History in a refreshing and entirely original way in this work. Rather than looking simply at what happened or even why it happened, he goes right back to first principles to examine why the circumstances arose that led to peoples of one part of the World essentially dominating the others. I think the macro view is a little simplistic but it is undeniably compelling and a strong counter-argument to more reductionist arguments of racial superiority or cultural differences.

I listen to a lot of history books on Audible and few, if any, have brought to light as many new realisations about the World. Not so much telling me things I didn't already know but highlighting the importance of facts that I was already aware of.

It has to be said that it is not a perfect work and Jared Diamond's ego does get in the way somewhat. He simply can't resist interposing his personal experience and special insights into the narrative rather than simply let the story stand on it's own. A certain number of these personal anecdotes would be fine but it feels at times like he is desperate for the reader/listener to acknowledge just how special and clever his insights are and how uniquely positioned he is to draw them.

Overall a really interesting and engaging listen but I can see how the writer's style might really grate with some.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating insights into long-term history

What did you like most about Guns, Germs and Steel?

The ambition of this book is immense, crisscrossing the globe, and human societies throughout history and prehistory. It's one of those rare mind expanding books that changes the way you look at the world.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Gareth
  • Lincoln, United Kingdom
  • 19-02-15

Interesting in parts, too repetitive, some bias

What disappointed you about Guns, Germs and Steel?

I felt like the author started off by a) telling me what he thought I believed (that 'westeners' were more intelligent than non westerners) and b) then telling me how I was wrong. I didn't actually believe the thing that I felt the author was accusing me of so that was a bad start. The book was extremely repetitive. It was very much, tell them what you are going to tell them x10, tell them x10, tell them what you just told them x 10. There was no need for all the repetition. I got it the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time. Some of the analyisis seemed quite flawed when compared with other books like Chip Walters' Last Ape Standing, and Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Overall some interesting snippets of information within spoiled by a biased writer who writes as if his readrer has the memory retention of a goldfish. Disappointing!

Has Guns, Germs and Steel put you off other books in this genre?

No

How could the performance have been better?

Performance was OK

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Guns, Germs and Steel?

Much of the repetition

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

In-depth analysis of the faith of people

Great book to catch up with the realities of the history. I hope this analysis has been included in the history books, summarized, since the details it provides could be off-putting for modern mind. Due to the nature, occasionally hard to follow and definitely needs breaks. Love how the narrator enunciates his 'h'-is!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Too many flawed arguments

Many interesting ideas,but too many flawed arguments, and poor research. The central theme maybe true, that the enviroment dictacted different peoples historical development, not any racial differences. This book however is just too flawed in its arguments,and some of the cited examples from history are just wrong. Hopefully the themes will be taken by others, who can bring a more crital eye to the subject.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book, not great as audiobook

Guns, Germs and Steel is a great book, but not really suitable for listening.
The author used long lists of examples and data to articulate and demonstrate his thesis. While this is very readable in a scientific or academic publication, it is suboptimal while listening to a reading. It is too easy to get lost without the visual clue of a printed text.
I enjoyed the audiobook but it only gave me the general gist. To appreciate the details and data you have to read a printed or ebook version.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Doug
  • 25-08-11

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.

44 of 49 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Daniel
  • 19-12-11

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.

45 of 52 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jeremy
  • 16-02-11

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".

59 of 70 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • firstrich1
  • 22-09-15

interesting but dry

I had some difficulty staying focused on the subjects due to the fact that the narrator was a bit on the side of sleep inducing. A soothing voice but dry in the reading, often coming across as methodical and like a recitation of facts. Much of the information is interesting but it was hard to stay focused. I think I got about 50% of what the author was saying just due to the dry expression of the narrator.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • ricky
  • 30-07-16

not the biggest fan

such a dry read. It was pretty difficult for me to finish. Im used to history themed books but this was hard to ge through

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Steven
  • 19-11-11

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%.

35 of 43 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michelle
  • 20-08-16

Brilliant!

Incredible analysis of human civilization! While it can be repetitive or dry in some areas, this could be improved with access of maps or Wikipedia as an adjunct to the audiobook.

The narration is a little off -- with sometimes jarring transitions in narration and a very annoying regional pronunciation of 'W's -- but is workable.

Strongly recommend for anyone with a curious mind.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Joel D Offenberg
  • 18-06-16

Interesting science but so-so writing.

Jared Diamond's thesis is interesting and thought-provoking, but this treatment of it is overdone and somewhat tedious.

The idea that human cultures are shaped by their environment and other non-human factors (such as animal and plant species) makes a lot of sense and Diamond does a good job of demonstrating the validity of the ideas. However, the book spends a lot of time driving home his points, and after a while, I just found it tedious to slog through the book.

The narration is good without being fantastic.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • W. Powers
  • 21-04-16

Persuasive argument but poor narration

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Diamond supports his core argument with a wealth of information, but devoting so many pages to the same argument dilutes the potency.

How could the performance have been better?

The recording quality of the narrator was poor and Ordunio has little color in his voice.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Jimmy Mak
  • 02-02-16

Poor preformance

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Unfortunately the narrator was completely unable to capture the drama of this book. I read it shortly after it came out in hardback and lent my copy one too many times so I was excited to read it again. This was not the experience I hoped for.

What other book might you compare Guns, Germs and Steel to and why?

Kon Tiki, Rapa Nui. Similar cultures.

What didn’t you like about Doug Ordunio’s performance?

You get the feeling he isn't hearing the words that he is saying.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

I do love this book. The ease with which the author relays his information is astounding. When on paper the pages fly by, when narrated it's like setting through a lecture. Such a shame that this book was presented by someone as disinterested as Doug Ordunio.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful