Review of Guns, Germs, and Steel

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Book Review
Katrina Yurkiw

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond
W. W. Norton and Company
April 1st, 1999
480 Pages
ISBN: 0393317552

Guns, Germs, and Steel is a fascinating perspective taken by Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA, Jared Diamond. Diamond's purpose was to explain why Eurasian civilizations have had such immense success conquering people and land other than their own. Diamond's aim is to answer Yali's question: Why is that white people have developed materials and technology and brought it to New Guinea, but the black people have little of their own? (3). Diamond is successful in answering Yali's question, but, his answer is one that I find to be not comprehensive enough for the magnitude of the subject. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond's thesis is that “history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people's environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." (12). What Diamond completely underestimates, is the influences of culture of and biology.Jared Diamond has a global reputation as one of America's most celebrated scholars, who is famous for his impressive work in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. Diamond was awarded a Pulitzer prize for Guns, Germs, and Steel in 2001, and since then this book has sold millions of copies and has been translated into 25 different languages. The message I interpreted from Guns, Germs, and Steel is that learning about the world's past should be prioritized to help all humans, now and in the future to make better decisions. Where I struggle with this message, is that as impressive as it is to say, Diamond is setting a poor example. He has formatted his book in such a way that he is selectively presenting information to strengthen what seems to be a previously drawn conclusion. Diamond does not include footnotes, and makes general references to unknown theorists and scientists. One thing to keep in mind with Diamond's references is that his target audience is individuals interested in popular science and environmental studies. He is not writing in an academic journal or for scholars.

The organization and presentation of information in Guns, Germs, and Steel is remarkably effective. The reason the title has guns and steel in it is beyond me, a remarkably small percentage of time is spent on those two topics. The book starts off with Yali's question, then generally moves in chronological order from the spread of people across the world, the development of food production, domestication of plants and animals, and then a particularly intriguing idea on the success of the movements of people and ideas based on the east-west axis, compared to the less successful north-west access. Diamond continues to the development of disease, social organization, than repeats most of what has already been said in the last fifty pages again. Who is Diamond arguing against? His work is structured as a general reply to someone, but it feels as though he is arguing against stubborn fundamentalists that are not respected in general society, and who would not be in any way convinced that their beliefs of “white power” are not correct by any book, no matter what style of writing or amount of facts. One strength of Guns, Germs, and Steel is how it has created a discussion for individuals who are not directly involved in academically based environmental discourse. Guns, Germs, and Steel has been credited for creating a new train of thought in many people and has sold millions of copies, which is a testament to the writing style of Jared Diamond. Personally, I was expecting less out of Diamond. After reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, I have learned a lot pertaining to the development of agriculture, the domestication of plants and animals and the migration of peoples, not of European descent. Diamond took on the impossible task of covering 10,000 years of human history...
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