Guns, Germs, and Steel


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Drjones
April 4, 2003, 03:37 PM
Has anyone read this book?

Guns, Germs, and Steel (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393317552/qid=1049488331/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-0065298-9404728?v=glance&s=books)

Back Cover (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0393317552/ref=lib_dp_TI01/104-0065298-9404728?v=glance&s=books&vi=reader&img=31#reader-link)

From the back cover: "...the book demolishes the grounds for racist theories of history."

Sounds *VERY* interesting to me.

Anyone?

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spacemanspiff
April 4, 2003, 03:42 PM
i bought it last year. still struggling to get through it.

it is interesting, and poses the question of "why did only certain areas of civilization advance?" it delves into the agricultural reasons and why hunter/gatherers took different paths, invented different types of tools, etc.

so far as i've read into it (maybe halfway through) it doesnt touch much on guns, except how the introduction of them to certain peoples gave them the obvious advantage and how they are attributed with being the tool that helped put entire tribes out of existance.

cordex
April 4, 2003, 03:43 PM
From what I hear it addresses the why's and wherefor's of technological advancement based on natural resources in different areas rather than the once-popular "Them <insert indigenous tribal group here> must jus' be put t'gether inf'rior-like." expalainations.

edit: Bah, spiff beat me to it.

Azrael256
April 4, 2003, 03:43 PM
Looks like it's worth the $12

Khornet
April 4, 2003, 04:16 PM
disappointed so far, some PC cant creeeping in...push on.

Drjones
April 4, 2003, 05:42 PM
some PC cant creeeping in...push on.

Yeah. I read the introduction, prologue, and part of the first chapter and noticed a bit of the same.

:mad:

Still, I think it may be a good read...

Drjones
April 4, 2003, 05:49 PM
Hmmm...an interesting review from an amazon.com reader:


Overrated Thesis Ignores Human Variables, April 25, 2000
Reviewer: Peter Agnew (see more about me) from Wellington, New Zealand

In "Guns, Germs and Steel," Jared Diamond argues that the Earth's geography has been the sole determining factor in the evolution and development of all the world's civilisations. In particular, Diamond argues that Europeans and Asians came to dominate the world politically and economically due to their favourable geographic circumstances. Diamond asserts that the people of Europe and Asia had the benefits of highly fertile land and animals that could be domesticated, while the native peoples of Africa, the Pacific and the Americas did not have these assets. As a result, Europeans had a "head start" in the development of their civilisation. Having overcome their agrarian problems by 1500, Europeans used their newly developed "guns" and "steel" along with "germs" to dominate the globe. Thus, issues of race and biology do not explain the course of world history. If African tribes had lived in Europe, says Diamond, it would be they, not Europeans, who would dominate the world today.

Needless to say, a legion of grateful left-wing scholars and academics labeled Diamond's book a revelation, and a Pulitzer Prize soon followed. Alas. "Guns, Germs and Steel" testifies why nobody should allow literary awards to influence their book-buying habits. Although Diamond's basic thesis does have some validity, he ignores too many important issues that needed to be discussed.

Firstly, Diamond's "geographic" theory is neither "original" nor "revolutionary" as so many have claimed. By arguing that all the world's civilisations were dependent on their geography, Diamond is following a line of reasoning that dates back to Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre's "Annales" school of history. Environmental historians such as Donald Worster have also reiterated the ideas of the "Annales" school in recent times. Diamond certainly recycles these theories admirably enough, but if you are familiar with the work of the above historians, you will find little to appreciate here.

Although Diamond's thesis seems coherent enough, much of it is theoretical, and suffers from a lack of concrete evidence to back up his arguments. Instead of material facts, we get highly theoretical "chains of causation" with words such as "surely" and "must have" to provide the connections. One might be able to see how metal implements might develop from fertile lands, but can Newton's theory of Gravitation or Shakespeare's plays be linked directly to the development of metal tools? It is a little difficult to believe.

An examination of history also exposes the major flaws of Diamond's case. Between 1500 and 1750, for example, Europe was wracked by continual bouts of famine, disease and economic instability. (See David Fischer "The Great Wave," Jan De Vries "The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis.") But in spite of these titanic problems, European nations began an unprecedented wave of expansion. In addition, the philosophies that made up The Enlightenment also flourished in this period of economic uncertainty. According to Diamond's thesis, none of this could have happened as European farms at the time were in such a precarious state. The fact that these things did occur strongly suggests that there were other factors at work in the development of European civilisation.

By contrast, civilisations in tropical regions had ready access to abundant foodstuffs that could grow easily in such a warm climate. Tribes of native North Americans ranged over land that is now considered the most fertile in the world - and yet, none of these civilisations, despite their favourable geography, progressed as European nations did.

Diamond also overlooks important issues such as differing cultural prespectives. Between 1400 and 1600, the European depiction of nature underwent a fundamental change. (See Keith Thomas, "Man and the Natural World," Michael Adas, "Machines as the Measure of Men.") In this period, Europeans began to look upon nature as something that must be tamed. Europeans realised that technological innovations could overcome the obstacles of nature and improve lives. Thus, innovation and progress were encouraged by all. By contrast, until the arrival of Europeans, all the other civilisations of the world resigned themselves to the limitations of their environment. African and Pacific civilisations sought to harmonise themselves with nature, rather than try to change it. The people of New Guinea, where Diamond apparently grew up, were no exception to this rule, as Roy Rappaport's "Pigs for the Ancestors" so convincingly shows.

Diamond also refuses to take the impact of religion seriously. And yet, the Christian faith, which demanded the "spreading of the gospel" encouraged Europeans to look far afield, while the doctrine of the "civilising mission" was a primary motive for Britain and France in their colonial expansion.

Perhaps the overriding problem with "Guns, Germs and Steel" is its political correctness. Human variables such as culture, religion and environmental perspectives have played decisive roles in the development of the world's civilisations. This remains the case today, no matter how politically incorrect it might be to say so. Certainly, geography has played a role in the development of world history, but not to the extent asserted by Diamond. By ignoring the human variables, Diamond has greatly distorted the history of human progress

firestar
April 4, 2003, 05:53 PM
I'm reading it right now! I am about 100 pages in. I think it is a good read on many different topics. I have a background in Anthropolgy and I noticed some flaws in the begining chapters of the book but they were not very important to the main focus of the book.

I thought it was interesting to find out why it was that the Europeans seemed to spead disease to the native peoples around the world but didn't seem to contract them in the same numbers.

Drjones
April 4, 2003, 06:19 PM
Firestar:

So do you think its overly PC or leftish?

That is exactly what I am struggling to get as far away from as possible.

Did you read the review I posted above?

I think he made some very valid points.

280PLUS
April 4, 2003, 07:04 PM
havent read the book but i have been reading a whole lot on the peoples of the south pacific islands and australia.

what i see in terms of all this is that the europeans/asians experienced the onset of the iron age much much prior to all other peoples of the earth. this was their decided advantage. the rest of the earth came into the iron age not by discovery but by the direct introduction to it by the europeans and asians.

there were those societies, and not all that long ago, that considred the gold that literally lay on the ground all aroung them to be worthless because it was too soft to use for tools, while iron, on the other hand was highly prized for its ability to be shaped and hold an edge.

additionally, they thought the white man who came to their land at great personal risk to pick up all this worthless yellow metal had to be totally out of his mind.

germs were the real culprit, smallpox to be exact, the europeans and asians brougth this deadly disease with them as carriers and this literally decimated all the native tribes EVERYWHERE they came into contact with them.

so regardless of what some might believe as far as how the europeans and asians came to dominate the other peoples of the world, it was much more by accident than design.

in terms of the word 'civilized', in a lot of ways, these native 'savages', as they were called, where much more highly civilised than their european invaders.

they had no things like murder, execution, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. until the arrival of the 'civilised" white man.

all killing was done for rituallistic purposes for the betterment or health of the tribe. not for personal gain or power as did the white man.

they couldn't understand why the white man prayed to "some 'nother feller" for the food and shelter that the earth and their bare hands provided, "must be him mad"

i be quiet now...

:D

Drjones
April 4, 2003, 07:10 PM
280plus:

Some very good points.

Dinesh D'Souza in his book "What's So Great About America?" raises a very interesting point as well:

Where is the Tolstoy of the Aboriginies?

The Mozart of Africa?

Where is the Einstein, the Hawking of the non-western world?

That is not to say that certain cultures ARE NOT capable of producing the great minds that western civilization has produced, only that they HAVE NOT.

I honestly wonder why?

Interesting point to ponder...

Ohen Cepel
April 4, 2003, 07:15 PM
I didn't take it as leftish or that PC.

I think it's a good book that covers numerous topics. I found it very interesting. It brought up several issues that I had never really thought about and I work with diseases for a living.

I think it's worth the read. I enjoyed it and have suggested it to many (have also suggested Pat Buchanan's new book also).


P.S. Not everyone is out to get us!

Standing Wolf
April 4, 2003, 08:23 PM
That is not to say that certain cultures ARE NOT capable of producing the great minds that western civilization has produced, only that they HAVE NOT.

Creation and invention require a foundation of freedom.

Kaylee
April 4, 2003, 08:33 PM
I've skimmed through it -- not read it in great detail, I must admit.

That said, my impression was that it was written as a justification work.. designed to prove his thesis with little attention to counterexamples... the agenda pushing seemed a little desperate to me in tone... something like "what possible rationaliztions can I come up with to prove my point?" rather than "let's see what's true here..."

One of the things they teach ya in psych 101 is that the successful tend to atttribute their successes to their own efforts, while the unsuccessful blame their failures to blind chance or other external factors.

I tend to believe the former... both for individuals and for cultures.

-K

Tamara
April 4, 2003, 09:42 PM
...and then immediately after read A Higher Form Of Killing, Why The Allies Won, and Why The Germans Lose At War.

If you then follow up with Frontsoldaten, Steel Rain, and The Soul Of The Sword, you will emerge a different person.



Those who think that books can't transform a person need to actually go read some. ;)

280PLUS
April 4, 2003, 09:58 PM
i would answer that by saying i'd be willing to bet they've existed, the tolstoys etc.

but having only verbal history that was passed from generation to generation the knowledge of their existence has been lost with the loss of the various multitudes of tribes that once existed.

the record of their existence lived on for many centuries in the form of tribal legend and myth passed on by the elders to the youth through ritualistic ceremony and attaining certain plateaus on the way to full fledged man/woman hood. but as these tribes died out, so did their stories of the past and hence their the record of their "great" people

great hunters, fishermen, songwriters, storytellers, weapon makers, canoe makers. all heroes of legend and all lost in the annals of time.

the einsteins would soon perish in the world of the aborigine from either hunger, thirst or unintentional poisoning in the attempts to eat or drink while the aborigine would find food and water all around as poor albert lay there gasping his last breath.

so who's the more intelligent one in that situation?

one last thought, what if these tribes had been allowed to continue as they had without the interference of the white man?

isn't it possible that they too would at some point have developed enough intellectually to produce such individuals as hawkings? although later in history?

is it possible today to find among their descendants individuals who are capable of this so called higher way of thinking?

ow, now youve gone and made me hurt my brain from too much ponder...

:D

firestar
April 4, 2003, 10:40 PM
Drjones,
I don't think it is overly PC or leftish but I did my undergrad BA in Anthropology so take that for what it is worth. I have been exposed to lots of leftish viewpoints and books over the years so maybe I just can't reconize them anymore.:D

What in particular did you find PC or leftish? Anthropology is extremly aware of it's political influence, some topics are nearly impossible to study for fear of being branded as rasict. Careers have been ended because someone did a study that was not PC. There is a whole set of subjets that are too hot to touch in Anth, you don't find these problems in Mathematics, for example.

Don't be too critical of these works, they have to walk a tight rope to get their point across. Also, it is just one book, is has some good points but I am sure some are incorrect or will be proven so soon. It is still a facinating read about a topic that has not really been explored as much as it should be. Another book that is sort of on this topic but approches it from a compleatly different angle is: Evolutionary Ecology and Human Behavior by Eric Alden Smith. It is very deep and heavy on the statistics but it is worth the read. Gives you something to think about even if you don't agree with it.

spacemanspiff
April 5, 2003, 02:37 PM
280plus, i think a key element is that such cultures who seemingly had no need for advances in technology, like you mentioned aborigines, figured that what they didnt understand about their environment was really immaterial, moot.

not saying these were simple peoples. consider the Dogon tribe in africa. for thousands of years they have engaged in rituals based around the Dog-star Sirius and its two companion stars Sirius B and Sirius C. they knew of their distinct pecularities, such as one of them being a dwarf, and having an elliptical orbit. they even knew its orbit took 50 years.

sirius B and C were discovered by astronomers who could only view them with powerful telescopes. they are invisible to the naked eye.


all over there have been tribes or cultures that have matched or sometimes exceeded what 'civilized' cultures have done. it seems like often, the 'civilized caucasian' culture is only playing 'catch-up' to what others have known or accomplished long before.

Bahadur
April 5, 2003, 05:35 PM
In "Guns, Germs and Steel," Jared Diamond argues that the Earth's geography has been the sole determining factor in the evolution and development of all the world's civilisations.That review is utterly faulty. Diamond does NOT argue that the geography has been "the sole determining factor."

What he does, however, is demonstrate that the varied environmental and geographical factors did much to shape human civilization development. He also shows that many factors acted (as he puts it) "auto-catalytically" to favor rapid development in certain areas over others.

He does not discount "human willpower" or "important" individuals, but he puts these factors in their proper context - arising out of a particular physical and social environment, rather than acting against it.

It is an outstanding book. I do not agree with all its premises or conclusions, but it does much to increase understanding of how a variety of different factors affect civilization development.

It certainly goes a long way to shatter the popularly-held belief that the West became "superior" because Western Europeans were somehow "superior" human beings.

The book is not "politically-correct" (why is it that when certain ideologues want to discount a scholarly work, the label "PC" is thrown about - even when they haven't even read the book?). In fact, it makes some highly politically-incorrect conclusions about certain national "identities."

By the way, another good follow-up to it is Louise Levathes' When China Ruled the Seas, which shows how the world history might have turned out if an obscure court intrigue had gone differently some 600 years ago.
Dinesh D'Souza in his book "What's So Great About America?" raises a very interesting point as well:

Where is the Tolstoy of the Aboriginies?

The Mozart of Africa?

Where is the Einstein, the Hawking of the non-western world?

That is not to say that certain cultures ARE NOT capable of producing the great minds that western civilization has produced, only that they HAVE NOT.I like much of Dinesh D'Souza's work, but he really ought to stick to what he knows best.

The non-Western world is full of amazing inventions, artistic endeavors and scientific achievements, many of which form bases for what eventually became "Western" science and art. For much of human history, Western Europe was a technological backwater (there is a reason why we use "Arabic" numerals, not "European" numerals, for our mathematics). How it came to "dominate" the rest of the world is an interesting story, over which many theories can be entertained, but it is faulty to assume that Western Europeans were (are) inherently superior because of its highly "temporal" supremacy. Sic transit gloria mundi!

Don Gwinn
April 5, 2003, 06:40 PM
Agreed--that review sounds like someone who skimmed a bit here and there and did not read carefully. GGS is not light reading, but still!

atek3
April 5, 2003, 11:35 PM
Tamara, could you go into a little explaination about those books?

atek3

adobewalls
April 6, 2003, 01:43 AM
Just found this site, and noticed this thread. I thought I would add my two cents:

I bought and read the book several years ago. I don't agree with everything Jared Diamond says, but I thought the book a very good read and an interesting perspective on the question of why Western society took off and outran everyone.

Since the book was published, several other books have been released that attempt to explain the difference between Western society and the rest of the World and that I would also recommend. They are: The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David Landis; Carnage and Culture, by Victor Davis Hanson; and the West and the Rest, by Roger Scruten.

Jared Diamond has recently written an Op-Ed piece for the L.A. Times; titled, "WEAPONRY; Muskets and Nukes: the Patterns of Proliferation", appearing in the Mar 16, 2003 edition. It too is an interesting read.

Blackhawk
April 6, 2003, 01:48 AM
Welcome to THR, adobewalls! :D

adobewalls
April 6, 2003, 12:32 PM
Thanks for the welcome Blackhawk!

I pulled my copy of Guns, Germs and Steel off the shelf this morning and thumbed through it again. My favorite chapter is Chapter 14 titled, "From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy - The evolution of government and religion."

Jared Diamond's observations in this chapter regarding how government structure evolves is a really interesting read. He takes on several well established theories of the evolution of government and then presents his own thesis.

Oh, another book on my bookshelf that address' societal evolution and whic I found to be an interesting read is, Non Zero, by Robert Wright. Robert Wright attempts to use game theory to explain the evolution of societies. Again in my opinion worth the read and then form your own opinion.

Flashman
April 6, 2003, 01:06 PM
that this book raises that are important, not whether it is PC. In high school, I benefited from a humanities teacher who taught based on themes rather than the traditional, boring, mind numbing chronology. For example, we examined the Hollocost in terms of 1) how it was the German nation spawned this catastrophe--was it different than Stalin's endeavors pre-WWII which resulted in many more deaths; and, 2) why did the Jews go complacently to their deaths (largely, but examined the Warsaw uprising, etc.). This was in high school in 1971 and 1972, long before this subject became popular. My first college taught in the chronology method; I transfered and graduated from one that taught the method of questioning the prejudices and pre-conceived notions of the writer of history.

I mention this because I think Diamond's book is important to me and probably the rest of us. I am not an academic and don't have a lot of time to think and examine this issues. I like most of don't read academic journals or debate these issues with others of like interest. This book is written from a significantly different perspective: from different disciplines than I usually am familiar with. Diamond is a ethnobiologist--not a historian. If I recall, one or both of his parents were linguists. He takes 4 or 5 areas of study, language, biology and botony, geography, disease, etc., and uses them to explain the forces of history. Is he right? Probably not but I learned a lot from this book and it raised more questions in my mind and certainly broadened my perspective.

Another book in a similar vein but much narrower in focus(and quite critical of Diamond) published in October 2001 in Victor Hansen Davis' Carnage and Culture: Or, why the West predominates in warfare--an explanation, perhaps, written before 9-11 that shows why Iraq and other Muslin nations will not prevail in any armed conflict against the West. It also gives a different perspective of the conflict between Islam and Christianity and why our current conflict is a continuation of something that has been going on for over a thousand years. For me it may help explain why Spain among all of the European countries sides with the UK and the USA.

geekWithA.45
April 6, 2003, 01:54 PM
What I got out of it I can summarize as follows:


The advancement of a given culture is related to two more or less arbitrary factors:

1) The presence of something beneficial in their environment and
2) The willingness of the culture to exploit that benefit.

D.W. Drang
April 8, 2003, 01:35 PM
My take, parts of which may or may not reiterate what others have said:
He doesn't so much have a creative new study so much as an old topic to which he applies new scientific techniques. Good fo rhim.
But he lost some credibility in my eyes in the introduction when he made the claim that people from Papua/New Guniea were smarter than "us", because they knew more about the flora and fauna of Papua/New Guniea than he does. :confused: So sorry, Jared old boy, it does NOT follow.

pittspilot
April 8, 2003, 02:42 PM
It is an interesting book, although it frequently bogs down.

What bothers me is that the author spent quite a bit of time in the first part of the book uplifting a civilization on almost the same premise that he attempts to demolish on the other side of the book.

My major problem with the book is that Diamond seems to be strictly an enviromentalist. By that I mean he completely blames the enviroment for the plight of various people, and then credits the enviroment for the success of others. In doing so he never attempts to grapple with the problems from a non-enviromental source.

However, like I said, it is a well-thought out book, and worth the read, whether you agree or not.

Oh, and Tamara, I can see why you swing the way you do.

Bahadur
April 10, 2003, 08:33 PM
But he lost some credibility in my eyes in the introduction when he made the claim that people from Papua/New Guniea were smarter than "us", because they knew more about the flora and fauna of Papua/New Guniea than he does.You missed his point. What he does is to contradict the notion that the "natives" are dumber than Westerners because the former live so primitively.

What he states is basically that "smarts" is contextual. Meaning, we are very smart in the ways of science and technology, because we live surrounded by them. That does NOT mean we are somehow biologically inherently more intelligent.

The Papuans are far smarters about their environment (the flora and fauna) than we Western urban dwellers are. We'd be basically idiots in their environment. He means to correct the smug Westerners who look down the Papuans as "stupid monkeys" just because they are not used to our technologies.
My major problem with the book is that Diamond seems to be strictly an enviromentalist. By that I mean he completely blames the enviroment for the plight of various people, and then credits the enviroment for the success of others. In doing so he never attempts to grapple with the problems from a non-enviromental source."Non-environmental source"? Like what? The inherently superior intelligence or motivation of one ethno-racial group or another?

We are highly intelligent adaptive beings. I do not understand why people find it so difficult to accept the notion that we are - to a great extent - shaped by the environment around us. Furthermore, environment and we have what Diamond calls an "auto-catalytic" relationship - a kind of a synergistic mutal bounce "up" when the right conditions are present. So, in Diamond's thesis, that relationship is a "winner-take-all" game in terms of technological advances.

pittspilot
April 11, 2003, 02:22 PM
""Non-environmental source"? Like what? The inherently superior intelligence or motivation of one ethno-racial group or another?"

Here is why arguments of this type go nowhere. Notice the staking out of the moral high ground, by insinuiting racism.

Let me be clear. Different racial groups exihibit different characteristics generally. Whether this is due to environment, or genetics is an open question. However, using a moral card like racism to ensure that the argument can only include environment is intelectual dishonest.

I personally do not know what to believe, since each side makes some excellent points. I can also agree that some on the genetic side have made some horribly racist arguments. However, that is the extremists. I don't compare your support for the Second Amendment with more extreme elements. Please don't compare my positions with thiers.

Bahadur
April 12, 2003, 04:02 AM
Let me be clear. Different racial groups exihibit different characteristics generally.That is a pretty meaningless statement. Why? Because genetic differences within a population group are substantially greater than those between groups. Meaning, individual differences (or "characteristics" in your lingo) are far more meaningful than "racial" ones.

What are these "different characteristics," pray tell me? And what do you mean by "racial groups"? Be kind and define these for me, would you?
Please don't compare my positions with thiers.If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

BTW, racism is pervasive throughout human society. We got off-tracked in the 19th Century about this notion of "race" and have been misinformed ever since. The science of genetics and DNAs has disproved the whole goofy notion, but it hasn't "sunk in" with the general public or governments yet. By "racism" or "racist," I don't necessarily mean the "Klan" kind - I also mean the more general and pervasive idea that there is a supposed set of distinct biological (often outward physical) differences that lump people into a handful of "races."

It is a political construct. It has always been a political construct. It has absolutely no basis in modern science.

pittspilot
April 12, 2003, 12:44 PM
Since you seem intent on trying to walk me into a racist circle, and not interested in a rational discussion, I consider this conversation over.

Bahadur
April 12, 2003, 10:23 PM
Since you seem intent on trying to walk me into a racist circle,Actually you did that just fine on your own with this racial differences talk.
and not interested in a rational discussion,That's funny, because I gave you some scientific, rational tidbits, with which you can argue, if you are so inclined. But I guess you got nothing to rebut with, do you?
I consider this conversation over.I think the conversation was over when you had nothing of substance to contribute in terms of science and offered instead some cryptic statements about racial differences.

My position is that "race" is a political construct, not a scientific, biological one. It is one that is backed by genetics and DNA studies. If you disagree, by all means, provide your rationale and scientific evidence, instead of playing a "victim."

By the way, I note that you fail to respond to the following questions:What are these "different characteristics," pray tell me? And what do you mean by "racial groups"? Be kind and define these for me, would you?

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