Summary and book reviews of Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs & Steel

by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs & Steel
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  • First Published:
    Mar 1997, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 1999, 480 pages

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Book Summary

'Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope . . . one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years.'

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a national bestseller: the global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.

In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed writing, technology, government, and organized religion—as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war—and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth Club of California's Gold Medal

The Fates of Human Societies

Chapter One

Up to the Starting Line

A suitable starting point from which to compare historical developments on the different continents is around 11,000 B.C. This date corresponds approximately to the beginnings of village life in a few parts of the world, the first undisputed peopling of the Americas, the end of the Pleistocene Era and last Ice Age, and the start of what geologists term the Recent Era. Plant and animal domestication began in at least one part of the world within a few thousand years of that date. As of then, did the people of some continents already have a head start or a clear advantage over peoples of other continents?

If so, perhaps that head start, amplified over the last 13,000 years, provides the answer to Yali's question. Hence this chapter will offer a whirlwind tour of human history on all the continents, for millions of years, from our origins as a species until 13,000 years ago. All that will now be summarized in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
    What are the other commonly espoused answers to "Yali's question," and how does Jared Diamond address and refute each of them?
    Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, "smarter" than Westerners?
    Why is it important to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes?
    Do you find some of Diamond's methodologies more compelling than others? Which, and why?
    What is the importance of the order of the chapters? Why, for example, is "Collision at Cajamarca"—which describes events that occur thousands of years after those described in the subsequent chapters—placed where it is?
    How are Polynesian Islands "an experiment of history"? What conclusions does Diamond draw from ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Review of Books - William H McNeil

Guns, Germs and Steel is an artful, informative and delightful book...there is nothing like a radically new angle of vision for bringing out unsuspected dimensions of subject and that is what Jared Diamond has done.

New York Times Book Review - James Shreeve

An ambitious, highly important book.

Washington Times - Martin Sieff

Serious, groundbreaking biological studies of human history only seem to come along once every generation or so. . . . Now [Guns, Germs, and Steel] must be added to their select number. . . . Diamond meshes technological mastery with historical sweep, anecdotal delight with broad conceptual vision, and command of sources with creative leaps. No finer work of its kind has been published this year, or for many past.

Los Angeles Times - Alfred W. Crosby

[Diamond] is broadly erudite, writes in a style that pleasantly expresses scientific concepts in vernacular American English, and deals almost exclusively in questions that should interest everyone concerned about how humanity has developed. . . . [He] has done us all a great favor by supplying a rock-solid alternative to the racist answer. . . . A wonderfully interesting book.

The New Leader - Thomas M. Disch

An epochal work. Diamond has written a summary of human history that can be accounted, for the time being, as Darwinian in its authority.

Washington Post Book World - David Brown

A fascinating and extremely important book. That its insights seem so fresh, its facts so novel and arresting, is evidence of how little Americans—and, I suspect, most well-educated citizens of the Western world—know of the most important forces of human history.

The New Yorker

The scope and explanatory power of this book are astounding.

Kirkus Reviews

While you have heard many of these arguments before, Diamond has brought them together convincingly. The prose is not brilliant and there are apologies and redundancies that we could do without. But a fair answer to Yali's question this surely is, and gratifyingly, it makes clear that race has nothing to do with who does or does not develop cargo.

Colin Renfrew,, Nature

Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope . . . one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years.

Colin Renfrew,, Nature

Diamond has written a book of remarkable scope . . . one of the most important and readable works on the human past published in recent years.

Author Blurb Bill Gates
Guns, Germs and Steel lays a foundation for understanding human history, which makes it fascinating in its own right. Because it brilliantly describes how chance advantages can lead to early success in a highly competitive environment, it also offers useful lessons for the business world and for people interested in why technologies succeed.

Author Blurb Edward O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University
No scientist brings more experience from the laboratory and field, none thinks more deeply about social issues or addresses them with greater clarity, than Jared Diamond as illustrated by Guns, Germs, and Steel. In this remarkably readable book he shows how history and biology can enrich one another to produce a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Reader Reviews

Kitty-San

Wow. Diamond's work in this book was amazing. Simply delectable. This book is written in a way that it keeps interest even though some say it is a bit long. But truely, for the ground it covers, its ever so short. I recommend this book to anyone ...   Read More

Paul

Brilliant. Compelling. Okay, it is a bit long, but well worth the read and sticking with it. The vaste panorama of human history will be laid out for you, and your understanding of how - and why - civilisation developed they way it did will change...   Read More

T.L.

Well, Let's See....
This is a good book. It may have some boring parts on it, but it's not to entertain you anyways. It's to inform you. And this book is a carefully thought-out, use all your resources, take 30 or more years to finish, AMAZING book. Jared Diamond had to...   Read More

Megan

GG&S is a really bad read!!!
I think this book is absolutely terrible. It is not only horribly boring, but terribly redundant.

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