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

by Jared M. Diamond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,625 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 1999 0393317552 978-0393317558

"Fascinating.... Lays a foundation for understanding human history."—Bill Gates

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 Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

  • Series: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317558
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,625 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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,

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#30 in Books > History
#30 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
462 of 497 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
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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306 of 338 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science in the service of History October 4, 2000
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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2,142 of 2,492 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A strong theory convincingly argued, but marred by bias January 24, 2001
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Gnuns Germs and Steel
Currently making it through this good summary and an interesting perspective on our origins. Would definitely recommend to other readers.
Published 1 day ago by obinna obilo
3.0 out of 5 stars Great for Scholars and Anthropologists
This is a VERY thorough analysis of how the world's societies came to be as they are, taking into account everything from food production to available natural resources to types of... Read more
Published 2 days ago by '92 Sportster
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.
Simply one of the best non-fiction books that I have ever read. Why are/were some civilizations primitive (and were destroyed) and some flourished and expanded. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Joe Goldberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Guns, Germs, and Steel
I have been wanting to read this book for forever. The shipping took a little longer than I anticipated, but I think it was worth the wait. I can't wait to read this! Thank you!
Published 4 days ago by Alexandra Rivera
4.0 out of 5 stars Yali's question answered!
Diamond's take into the wealth distribution of the world today is an interesting theory that makes much sense. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Jen Adams
3.0 out of 5 stars Loaded down with too much info
Although reading good detailed information is needed for a book like this, the author goes much to far in describing things like how a plant evolved. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Donavan Merck
1.0 out of 5 stars More Apologies from the Left?
For some time I had planned to read this book. The title suggests a scientific examination of how and why European nations had evolved to subjugate less developed cultures. Read more
Published 10 days ago by JB
4.0 out of 5 stars all good, enjoyable and came promptly
fascinating book, I had to prise it from my wife to get it back! Definitely a good read. Came promptly and in good condition
Published 10 days ago by Alan
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of mistakes
This Kindle edition is full of mistakes. Buy the other Kindle version. Amazon should definitely stop selling this particular version.
Published 10 days ago by Heli
3.0 out of 5 stars Filled with Anti-Western Bias
The author, Jared Diamond, appears to have an attitude that is not uncommon among academics in the social sciences: Anti-Western bias. Read more
Published 11 days ago by RightThinking
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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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