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Guns, Germs, and Steel

4 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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(Jul 12, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book and national best seller, Guns, Germs, and Steel is an epic detective story that offers a gripping expose on why the world is so unequal. Professor Jared Diamond traveled the globe for over 30 years trying to answer the biggest question of world history. Why is the world so unequal? The answers he found were simple yet extraordinary. Our destiny depends on geography and access to: Guns, Germs, and Steel. Weaving together anthropology and science with epic historical reenactments, Guns, Germs, and Steel brings Diamond's fascinating theories to life, and moves beyond the book to bring his ideas into the present day.


Is the balance of power in the world, the essentially unequal distribution of wealth and clout that has shaped civilization for centuries, a matter of survival of the fittest… or merely of the luckiest? In Guns, Germs, and Steel, UCLA professor (and author of the best-seller bearing the same title) Jared Diamond makes a compelling case for the latter. Diamond's theory is that the predominance of white Europeans (and Americans of European descent) over other cultures has nothing to do with racial superiority, as many have claimed, but is instead the result of nothing more, or less, than geographical coincidence. His argument, in a nutshell, is that the people who populated the Middle East's "fertile crescent" thousands of years ago were the first farmers, blessed with abundant natural resources (native crops such as wheat and barley, domesticable animals like pigs, goats, sheep, and cows). When their descendents migrated to Europe and northern Africa, climates similar to the crescent's, those same assets, which were unavailable in most of the rest of the world, led to the flourishing of advanced civilizations in those places as well. Add to that their ability to control fire, and Europeans eventually developed the guns and steel (swords, trains, etc.) they used to conquer the planet (the devastating diseases they brought with them, like smallpox, were an unplanned "benefit" to their subjugation of, for instance, Peru's native Incas). Spread out over three episodes and two discs and presented with National Geographic's usual style and thoroughness, the program uses location footage (from New Guinea, South America, Africa, and elsewhere), interviews, reenactments, maps, and Diamond's own participation to support his thesis. And while one might disagree with his conclusions, there is no doubt that Guns, Germs, and Steel is a provocative, classy piece of work. --Sam Graham

Special Features

  • Episodes: Out of Eden, Conquest, Into the Tropics
  • Interactive maps
  • Timelines
  • Photo gallery

Product Details

  • Format: Black & White, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: National Geographic Video
  • DVD Release Date: July 12, 2005
  • Run Time: 165 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0009GX1EM
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,123 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Guns, Germs, and Steel" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
First, if you taped this documentary off of PBS, keep your tape as the "extras" here are little more than a few facts spiffed up graphically over a world map.

Diamond's thesis in "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is that geography, which governs climate which, in turn, governs indigenous species, is the reason for the unequal distribution of wealth in the world today. In short, Diamond is focused on why the Europeans conquered so much of the world.

There are 3 one-hour episodes in this series. The first is concerned with why agriculture took hold in parts of the world and hints at the benefits it bestowed in developing large, complex societies. The second episode is concerned with how these large complex (European) societies were able to develop weapons (guns and steel) to conquer much of the rest of the world. Germs were an unintended weapon against indigenous people that may have been the most beneficial. The last installment is concerned with another way to test the "guns, germs, and steel" hypothesis using the European march into Africa as test material. Here, climate (created by geography) creates indigenous germs that the Europeans can't handle. Nevertheless, guns and steel (apparently) still win the day.

This documentary is a reasonable, though somewhat superficial, overview of Diamond's thesis. The problem is, however, that it is somewhat glib and fails to get to the "Ken Burns" gold standard. There is much repetition of the "guns, germs, and steel" theme from episode to episode so that, even within the 3 hours, there should have been room to hint at some speculation on simple questions that the thesis itself invites. For example, there is essentially no mention of China (except the standard reference to gunpowder being developed there).
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Format: DVD
Jared Diamond, a distinguished professor of physiology and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, has devoted much of his life trying to understand man's impact on nature, through significant, often pioneering, work on bird species diversity in New Guinea, and the extinctions of endemic species of plants and animals in the aftermath of human colonization of the South Pacific by the ancestors of the Melanesians and especially, Polynesians. For this excellent work he has earned numerous accolades, including - if my memory is correct - membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He is also a superb writer and a mesmerizing lecturer; qualities which are shown in ample abundance throughout this National Geographic miniseries devoted to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Guns, Germs and Steel".

Originally published back in 1997, "Guns, Germs and Steel" posed the interesting hypothesis that Western civilization's preeminence is due to mere happenstance, simply because its ancestral Fertile Crescent civilizations were lucky to have the richest abundance of potentially domesticated grains and animals. The eventual triumph of Western civilization is due to its successful colonization of the temperate regions of the globe, via its rich abundance in domesticated grains and animals, advanced weaponry and technology, and the accidental spread of virulent, often deadly, diseases associated with domesticated animals such as pigs and sheep.

This National Georgraphic miniseries is a somewhat successful exploration of Jared Diamond's work and the ideas described in "Guns, Germs and Steel". The first hour-long episode, devoted to domestication of grains and animals, is the most successful of the three.
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Format: DVD
Based on Jared M. Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 480 pp., [32] pp. pls.), this July 2005 telecast (also available on DVD) received full and somewhat critical reviews by M. Balter in Science 309: 248-249 (8 July 2005) and by N. Martel in The New York times (11 July 2005).

Suffice it to say here, the first episode is the best, and by far the most botanical, dealing with Diamond's controversial ideas on the origins of agriculture and domesticated plants and animals in the Near East and their global latitudinal (rather than longitudinal) spread. Episode 2 is a tad overkill, focusing almost entirely on that fateful November-1532 day when 168 Spaniards killed some 7000 unarmed Incas; smallpox was the cour de grâce for countless Incan survivors of the massacre, who lacked the resistance to the disease many Europeans had. Episode 3 deals with the European and Boer colonization of Africa and ends in hopeful platitudes but regretfully offers no solutions for the continent's troubles. [Because the first episode deals much with grains, and because guns and germs do not enter until the second episode, I suggest a better title for the book would have been Grains, Guns, Germs, and Steel.] Despite the obvious padding and repetition characteristic of video endeavors of this sort, the program is definitely worth watching for its historical and biological insights.
Comment 49 of 54 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
The book is one of my all-time favorites. But it is true, as some reviewers have said, the documentary is not in-depth enough. If you weeded out the repeats of ideas and unnecessary dramatic details, it oculd be a 1/2 hour documentary. But, I might have liked this much better if I had not read the book first.

I would like to recommend another book, along the same lines: Conquests and Cultures, by Thomas Sowell. I'd love to see that one as a documentary.
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