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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies [Kindle Edition]

Jared Diamond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,713 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye--and his heart--belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.

From Library Journal

Most of this work deals with non-Europeans, but Diamond's thesis sheds light on why Western civilization became hegemonic: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." Those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing writing, government, technology, weapons of war, and immunity to deadly germs. (LJ 2/15/97)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2093 KB
  • Print Length: 488 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B000KISQC6
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 1999)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000VDUWMC
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,071 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
478 of 513 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I guess some folks don't have the patience July 13, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I think some of the reviewers here didn't read the book closely enough to understand the context of some of Diamond's arguments. He never says that biogeographical effects are the ONLY causes history. His main purpose is the search for the ultimate, extremely general causes for the broadest of trends in human history and prehistory.
By the time the Mongols roared across Asia, or the Moguls invaded India, many cultures around the world already changed so much that bioregional factors, though seminal in the creation of these broadest trends, weren't nearly as important as the political, religious and economic ones. He is not ignoring religion and so on but, he states plainly several times that isn't his focus. He is looking for ultimate causes--before humans had extremely advanced mental concepts like religion.
He also wanted to point out the devastating influence of disease on history. It was surely the European germs that did most of the conquering of Native Americans. The guns and horses were almost incidental. Later on, once Europeans had established themselves, then we can focus on economic and political systems. But we can't ignore the effects of the diseases unleashed on the Americas. These plagues gave the Europeans a very lucky boost that catapulted them beyond the wealth and power of China, India or the Middle East--long before the Industrial Revolution made this gap obvious.
Another thing that some people seem to be having trouble with is his assertions about the native intelligence of tribal peoples around the world. (If you read the book, you notice that he is not just saying this about the New Guineans.)
He takes pains to point out what he means by this. He not talking about some mysterious genetic superiority of tribal peoples.
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315 of 348 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science in the service of History October 4, 2000
Format:Hardcover
In one compelling volume, the famous biologist Jared Diamond tackles the most important question of global history: Why did Europeans come to dominate the New World?
This question has been answered by others before; Diamond's idea that Europe's geography is the cause ("geographical determinism") has also been proposed before. Any student of history can drag up a case or two of this thesis. Baron Montaigne, for example, proposed that Europe's primacy stemmed from its superior government, which could be derived directly from the coolness of its climate.
The deep significance of this book is that Diamond's thesis is not simply idle speculation. He proves that the Eurasian land mass had by far the best biological resources with which to develop agricultural societies, and was thus more able to form large, coherent, and powerful social entities.
To support this idea, Diamond introduces thorough set of well-researched data on what kinds of plants and animals are necessary to support a farming society. He investigates the biological resources available to potential farmers in all parts of the world. The people of Eurasia had access to a suite of plants and animals that provided for their needs. Potential farmers in other parts of the world didn't-- and so their fertile soil went untilled.
After establishing this strong foundation, Diamond falls into repeating ideas about the formation of large-scale societies. These ideas, while unoriginal, are still compelling, and Diamond presents them in a very clear and well-written way.
His other major original contribution comes when he discusses the diseases that helped the Old World conquer the New.
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2,173 of 2,527 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strong theory convincingly argued, but marred by bias January 24, 2001
Format:Paperback
According to Diamond, four factors are responsible for all historical developments: 1) availability of potential crops and domestic animals, 2) the orientation of continental axis to facilitate the spread of agriculture, 3) transfer of knowledge between continents, and 4) population size.

Diamond states that "those four sets of factors constitute big environmental differences that can be quantified objectively and that are not subject to dispute." Fair enough, but what *is* subject to dispute is that there might be some other factors at work. Thomas Sowell in Race and Culture does a good job of developing the thesis that the exchange of information among European cultures, facilitated by Europe's plentiful navigable rivers, was the key to Europe's technological and economic rise. David Landes in the Wealth and Poverty of Nations attributes China's conscious decision in the 1400's to isolate itself form other nations as the key event (decision) that caused it to lose it's technological advantage and fall behind Europe. (Diamond briefly touches on 15th Century China in the final chapter, but manages to boil this as well down to an accident of geography.)

This is unfortunate, because the book contains a wealth of excellent material which is excellently explained. Many of the core causes which Diamond explores ring very true, and his points are persuasively argued. The connection between the development of agriculture and the subsequent unequal rise of military capability worldwide is very convincing. But convincing though they may be, reading these theories one can't shake the sneaking suspicion that Diamond is selectively presenting evidence which he's has found to support his previously drawn conclusion, and neglecting evidence which runs counter.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars are actually more intelligent and have created a "better" society than...
Will likely be difficult to read for all but the most liberal reader. Highly politically motivated, the author routinely attacks all things modern and western, trying to convince... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Rooster
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Enlightening, Enriching
Robust account of the development of societies. Diamond's theories have application far beyond the immediate focus of the book. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Studley 6
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative.
An exceptionally interesting read. Everyone who has any curiosity at all about why some cultures thrived and others didn't, when we all started off the same, should definitely set... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Max
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Kindle version lacks material
Interesting theory. I found it hard to read on the Kindle - tables too fragmented and figures/maps missing making it hard to evaluate some of the author's statements.
Published 6 days ago by MaryEllen Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A unique and penetrating take on "civilisation", full of insights and a "must read".
Published 8 days ago by J J LIVESEY
4.0 out of 5 stars My Brain Hurts
If you decide to tackle "Guns, Germs, and Steel," it would be advantageous to read chunks of the book or at least a full chapter instead of a few pages at a time. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Franklin the Mouse
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good historical overview of the development of civilization and a...
Very good historical overview of the development of civilization and a very well supported theory of why civilization developed as it did.
Published 11 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An eye opener for world history, it can change the perspective of looking at the wars and worlds!!!
Published 12 days ago by Radhika
5.0 out of 5 stars Diamond does his best. Also
To the extent that historical social science can be data driven, Diamond does his best. Also, his logic is well applied. Read more
Published 13 days ago by opinionated doc
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
It is interesting but not at all a quick read.
Published 13 days ago by Patricia Ridgley
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More About the Author

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Among Dr. Diamond's many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan's Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by Rockefeller University. He has published more than six hundred articles and several books including the New York Times bestseller "Guns, Germs, and Steel," which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Additional information about Dr. Diamond may be found at his personal website, www.jareddiamond.org.

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Topic From this Discussion
Tables and figures in Kindle edition
I am enjoying this book, however, it is disappointing not being able to view the figures. Feels like I'm only getting partial value. Called Kindle support, they shared that the publisher has a disclaimer in the book about this, to find all you need to do is start at the cover, page through a... Read More
Oct 15, 2011 by A. Lewis |  See all 9 posts
The Japan problem.
And for a large part of their history, they were far behind the rest of the world. They owe much of their early development (and their later development) to trade and cultural/technological diffusion rather than independent development. The Japanese did not develop wet rice agriculture (one of... Read More
Oct 30, 2008 by Theodore M. Brown |  See all 8 posts
The product of circumstance.
The central premise of the book is hard to refute, and those Westerners that look for some Cosmic Superiority reason behind their success are very misguided. However, the book argues that any group of modern humans would progress along similar lines given similar circumstances. Nowhere in the... Read More
Nov 30, 2005 by Geoff Howard |  See all 7 posts
Welcome to the Guns, Germs, and Steel forum
One of the major questions the book has posed me (and should to everybody) is what environmental factors in southern South America prevented agriculture developing.

If you read "Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Anuual Flows and Peak Discharges" by Tom McMahon, you will see... Read More
Jan 16, 2006 by mianfei |  See all 8 posts
The history of domestic water buffalo and banteng
it was combination of 2 and 3. when humans first started migrating to new guinea neither had become fully domestic they were both semi domestic. Then by the time they were fully domestic and commonly traded people where still migrating but it was simply to hard to get them across.
im a historian... Read More
Apr 2, 2012 by jj |  See all 2 posts
is this book unabridged? Be the first to reply
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