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Guns, Germs and Steel

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Every once in a while, and all too seldom, I come across an book that takes me to a new vantage of understanding. Maybe it opens up a new field of knowledge I’d never discovered. Maybe it answers a question that I’d been unable to answer on my own. But these books are real gems, the sorts of things that I mull over and chew on because there are so many good and useful ideas inside.

Guns, Germs and Steel is one of those kind of books. In this case, it answered a question that I’d been wondering for a long time. I’d phrased it like this, “What is up with Africa?”

Africa seems to be perennially fucked. They seem to be cyclically starving to death, they seem to have massively corrupt and uncaring goverments. They always need water and medicine.

Other places don’t seem to be starving to death all the time. Why Africa? What’s the real roots of the problem?

GG&S deals with that. And they deal with an even bigger issue: why the peoples from some areas conquered other peoples in different areas.

THAT is another question I wonder about.

Why did some peoples colonize and others BE colonized?

GG&S breaks it down into some really practical and understandable elements. To generalize: some people were better fed. And they were better fed because they had better food around.

Some PLACES had better food available than others. As enticing as it is to consider the people group to which I belong as superior, there are actually circumstantial and incidental reasons having to do with LOCATION that makes one group successful over another.

That’s a real, practical and effective argument against racism as well. Another advantage to reading this book!

It won a Pulitzer, as well it deserved. I would hope that this book would go on to be read by students and others for years and years to come.

To me, it was not hard to read. As technical as some of the subject matter became, the author made it very relevant to the reader.

Also, it gave me some new trains of thought about how to manage the future. We are all in this together, all of us humans from all over the world. We inter-relate a lot, and it would be best to understand the past so that we can make wise decisions about the future.

I can hardly stop talking about this book to all the people I know. It was very exciting to read it.

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  • Doctor Slack

    Guns, Germs & Steel is, of course, a fabulous book and deserves to be recognized as such. It pays to read it carefully, though, and to dig through the bibliography and read beyond it if you’re really interested in the subjects Diamond touches on.

    I’ve seen it argued with some justice that Diamond flirts with a far-too-strong form of geographic determinism — in particular, overdrawing his thesis about the role east-west vs. north-south axes play in developing civilizations. I tend to think the problem is just that he’s easily misread because of the brevity with which he touches on certain subjects; I once saw someone claim, after reading this book, that China developed the way it did because it was “flat.” Be careful. This could happen to you.

    Great book, though.

  • http://home,cwru.edu/~brm4/ Ben McLaughlin

    It was certainly based on an interesting thesis, but I found Diamond’s book to be dry, repetitive, and lacking the rich depth that I had expected from hearing and reading nothing but rave reviews.

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