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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Overview of Jared Diamond's Ideas, But.....
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...
Published on May 15, 2006 by John Kwok

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238 of 253 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book yields mediocre documentary
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...
Published on July 16, 2005 by The Rocketman


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238 of 253 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book yields mediocre documentary, July 16, 2005
By 
The Rocketman (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
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). If China had a complex civilization, why did they end up in isolation? It is never mentioned, for example, *why* the Chinese, having developed gunpowder never used it in conquest. (The neglect of China is particularly interesting as Diamond does deal with some of these issues in his book.) Another example is the tropic climate theme: the Americas had a tropical climate as well, complete with tropical germs and yet that did not slow the spread of European conquests there. Finally, geography is presented on a primarily 2-dimensional world map scale, not accounting for crucial issues like climate changes at altitude or rapid transportation as a result of internal rivers within a continent.

Lastly, while this is really Diamond's show, it would have been valuable to have a few scholarly, dissenting opinions on why Diamond's theories haven't been universally embraced. As it is, the documentary presents the "guns, germs, and steel" theory so forcefully, one is left to wonder why it took 30 years for someone as smart as Diamond to come up with a set of seemingly simple ideas. The elegance of Diamond's theory is precisely because it shows how simple issues relate to the complexities of human history, but the documentary completely neglects competing ideas in this arena (and there are many).

It's nice that National Geographic is introducing these provocative ideas to the public at large, it's just a shame that such weighty material didn't produce a deeper program.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Overview of Jared Diamond's Ideas, But....., May 15, 2006
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (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. It is followed immediately by a second episode describing the clash of Western civilization with an indigenous, technologically advanced, American civilization - the Inkas - in 1532 and 1533 - in which the Spanish conquistadors succeeded only because an Old World disease - smallpox - had decimated the Inka population in 1531. The third episode is a more contemporary test of Diamond's hypothesis, set in Sub-Saharan Africa, but yielding a result not nearly as clear cut as the Spanish invasion of the Inkan Empire. Still, despite the mixed quality of these episodes, I can recommend this DVD set as a visual introduction to Diamond's hypothesis; an ecologically-oriented, testable hypothesis which was virtually unknown to anthropologists and other social scientists prior to the book's original publication.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth watching more for the grains component than for the guns/germs components, September 5, 2005
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (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.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book, good documentary, but . . ., September 25, 2005
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you like National Geographic.............., August 28, 2005
By 
D. Newbury (Hedgesville, WV) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
If you like National Geographic specials, you'll love this. It captures everything you expect from Nat'l Geo.--beautiful visuals, stunning photography, gorgeous scenery, little depth. If you read GG&S, and expect this to be a Nova-, BBC-, or even PBS-class presentation of a scientific theory, you will be disappointed.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for teachers, April 8, 2006
By 
Eric (Brooklyn, New York United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
Personally, I have used this documentary for my classes and I found it to be highly useful. The episode "Into the Tropics" is especially useful for a lesson on European imperialism in Africa. Diamond does a wonderful job of showing the uniqueness of Africa in terms of the affect of imperialism on it, as well as why unlike Australia and the Americas, the population of subSaharan Africa is not primarly Caucasian.

One sad note. The scene of children dying of malaria had my children saddened, especially when Jared Diamond himself is shown bursting into tears.

The special feautures of this DVD are great to for an introduction to world history course.

Note for non-teachers: If you have read the book already, this DVD is not a necessity, as it is a lightened version of the book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but the book is better, March 16, 2006
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel is a Pullitzer Prize-winning book that traces the progression of human history from hunting and gathering societies to agricultural, industrial societies. The book itself is phenomenal, and has catapulted Diamond to the status of America's best-known popular scientist.

The documentary Guns, Germs, and Steel is definitely worth watching. However, some commentary is needed. The first episode ("Out of Eden") is by far the best episode of the three. This episode examines the development of agriculture and the rise of permanent settlements. The least interesting/most boring of the three is Episode 2: Conquest. Episode 3: Into the Tropics provides a quick history of African colonization and resistance, with a focus on current disease patterns on the continent.

Episode 1 is fantastic, and this episode alone would have made a fine documentary. Unfortunately, the second and third episodes become repititive and seem to lack a coherent focus. Having said that, though, these two episodes still have educational and insightful value - but they simply do not live up to the first.

This three-episode set follows Diamond's book closely, and since I have already discussed the book in a separate review, I will not comment on Diamond's thesis here. I recommend watching this film in conjunction with reading the book. Whether or not you agree with Diamond's over-arching theory of human history (I personally do happen to agree with it), you will at the very least find the argument Diamond makes to be quite compelling.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy companion to a great book, July 20, 2005
By 
Erik E. Byberg (millbrae, california United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
Most science or history based dvd's have a companion book that goes along with them. In the case of Guns, germs and steel, it's the other way around. This dvd series touches on some of the major points of the book very well. It is a good companion to the book. It is also a plus that Jarad Diamond is the host of this documentary, because you get to see and hear the man speak about this most facinating idea that has driven him for so long. If this idea of geography playing a major role in the fundemental developement of sociaty intrests you buy this dvd. But also buy the book and once you've seen the documentary, read the book. You will get a much better understanding of the concepts being put forth by Mr. Diamond if you do both these things as apposed to doing one or the other. In the end I know I was left with a better understanding of this facinating subject.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read the book, August 22, 2005
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
The CDs were kind of interesting in that they covered some material not in the book, particularly the 3rd CD on the Dutch in Africa. Also a touching moment when Diamond breaks down when visiting a children's hospital in Zambia.

Overall tho, maybe 1/10th the information of the book, in 1/2 the time it would take to read the book. I prefer the more information dense format.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not deep but worth 3 hours watching, March 20, 2007
This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel (DVD)
I saw the 3rd part on TV and just had to watch the rest. It's well done, interesting with the usual excellent filmography by NatGeo, as well as enlightening dialogue with J.Diamond. It is a personal story, the answer to a New Guinean's question posed 30 years ago:"how come you white men have so much cargo and us New Guineans have so little?"

So exactly why did Europeans conquer the world in the 16th-19th centuries? His short answer is the title: Guns, Germs and Steel. His long answer is biogeography, Europeans had a leg up on the rest of the world because of wheat and cows, which allowed a higher, more materially prosperous, greater population centered in larger cities society which overwhelmed the aborginal peoples of N and S America, Oceania and the Southern tip of Africa. It's almost common wisdom that this is at least part of the answer, but Diamond does an excellent job of arguing the point and showing the consequences of this division into Northern and Southern societies.

I enjoyed the show, it is not a deeply thinking type of documentary, but rather aimed more at the emotions, the feelings of comradeship that ought to exist like the bonds between Diamond and the people he knows in New Guinea, or the sympathy for young malaria victims in Africa. The idea that the west, that Europeans, are blessed not for what they are, nor for what they did, but simply because of where their ancestors settled, is meant to temper the common ideal that my arm has gotten me this wealth and it is justificably mine to do whatever i think best, that those in need have only to reach out and do the same thing to succeed, rather than expecting a handout from the strong. Not a bad lesson at all, gratitude, modesty, sharing, not done in a particularly heavy handed preaching way as is often the case, but rather low keyed, here are the facts, you are not better than the New Guineans but rather more lucky, not smarter or more hard working or whatever, just fortunate.

I look forward to Diamond meet a Chinese man who asks him:"why does the West have so much when us Chinese had all the pieces you mention long before the Europeans. But we used gunpowder to make firecrackers not firearms. Why doesn't material wealth follow good culture and wisdom?" And that is where the show leaves me, what he says is all good and probably substantially true, but why didn't China develop long before the West?
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