Guns, Germs and Steel – A Book Review

“Guns, Germs and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond is an extremely interesting book about what factors might be responsible for the varied trajectories that technological progress has taken in different times and places and by different peoples around the world.

Diamond reviews the history of the two most advanced civilizations found on Eurasia, namely the Far Eastern Kingdom of China and the Euro-Middle Eastern complex of cultures that succeeded from the Sumerians.  He catalogs the series innovations that occurred since the end of the Last Ice Age that catapulted humanity from the Stone Age to the Space Age in the space of 13,000 years.  Now this sounds like a long time but compare it to the hundreds of thousands of years in which the only progress was advances in stone spearhead technology.

Next, we are walked through the other civilizations that existed around the world.  We meet the new world cultures in mesoamerica and the andes.  We follow the Austronesians as they go from Taiwan to every island between Madagascar and Easter Island.  We meet the various peoples inhabiting sub-Saharan.  And we meet the Australian aborigines and the inhabitants of the New Guinea highlands.  And we watch as these primitive cultures collide with the modern Europeans.  And we see how the Guns, Germs and Steel of the title decimate these primitive cultures.

And finally, Diamond explains how the vicissitudes of geography are completely responsible for the difference between Albert Einstein and Yali the genius of the New Guinea highlands.  Apparently we are all exactly the same.  I know this because Mr. Diamond repeats it liberally throughout the text just in case you aren’t paying close attention.

And I will admit that many of the points are very persuasive.  It is quite interesting how the Austronesian people developed along entirely different technological trajectories depending on what were the resources of the various islands they ended up on.  So, those that ended up on New Zealand or Hawaii were able to progress to agricultural societies while those on wretched dots of land like the Chatham Islands barely clung to life as hunter gatherers.  And the great advantages of inhabitants of Eurasia are fairly convincing.  Being able to borrow from civilizations in all directions around you surely helped the people of Europe to advance rapidly.  But when at the end of the book he hunts for a reason as to why European culture was able to outperform the Chinese and other Asian cultures in the colonial period he rather weakly claims that the comparative isolation of Europe due to the fragmentation into peninsulas and islands was the reason.  To me this seems to be a case of blowing hot and cold.  Or possibly the Doctrine of the Three Bears.  This place is too isolated, this place is not isolated enough but this place is isolated just right!  Seems a bit weak.

Well anyway, I learned a good bit about early human civilization.  I also found out that the modern Japanese came from the Korean people.  But I’m not sure I really believe that the Australian Aborigines are really that close to their own space program.  But Mr Diamond thinks they are.  Good luck with that.

It’s a good book and highly interesting.  I recommend it if you can ignore the virtue signaling.