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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies 1st Edition

2,071 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393317558
ISBN-10: 0393317552
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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.

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Product Details

  • Series: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317558
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,071 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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,

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#57 in Books > History
#57 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

552 of 595 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 1999
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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347 of 385 people found the following review helpful By Jim Luebke on 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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2,277 of 2,636 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on 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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