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Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond

May 19, 2012

On the cover, this book bragged that it was a short history of everyone for the past 13,000 years. With a claim like that, I had to check it out.


I was expecting a concise history of states and peoples, who conquered what, et cetera. Y’know, history. Instead Diamond sums up the general trend of history for the last few hundred years as white Europeans going to America, Africa and Australia and taking over, largely through guns, germs and steel. However, these are only proximate causes, as he puts it. Why did the native American germs wipe out the conquistadors? Why didn’t Africa invade Europe?

To answer these questions, he traces the proximate causes back to their ultimate causes, such as food production, animal domestication, complex societies and east-west continental axes, and looks at how differences in these different factors across the continents led to the imbalance in power post-1492 AD.

The book has a remarkble scope and must be applauded for that. Moreover, Diamond is able to pull it off persuasively. In the first part of the book, he examines how food production, domestication, et al, evolved and why different societies took them or not. The second part puts it in a continental context, drawing together all the different strands of ultimate factors on a continent to explain why it was in the state it was when Europeans with an excess of flags got itchy feet. To do so, he draws on Archaeology, Botany, Zoology and Linguistics, to name but a few disciplines.

This is certainly an educational book. After finishing it, my mind feels broadened, as well as stretched in several other dimensions. Though it was quite dense to begin with, Diamond writes with an easy, readable style, without over-simplifying the subject matter (Within reason. He does cover 13 millennia in 400 pages).

Though a bit lengthy, summarising 13, 000 years is no mean feat. This book accomplishes it in an enjoyable and enlightening way. It was most refreshing seeing history from a completely different perspective.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go binge on some fiction.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 19, 2012 7:07 pm

    Saw this lying around at a friends, kind of put off by the attitudinal cover, but interested to read a concise review to save me the bother.

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