2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2015
I was excited to read this book. Why? I read his books; Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse. In this book Diamond takes the same very academic approach to enchant the reader into his reading his dissertation. In time the reader begins to feel like a young college student listening to lecture after lecture. Diamond faced with the PhD’s life to publish or perish, sent is lectures to his faculty to publish in a book. Diamond then pens an introduction.
Unlike is other books that start off with an insulting introduction, Diamond marvels you with an airport scene in New Guinea. In the airport he describes what we modern western folks see as normal. Then he brings the reader to appreciate that for New Guineans, relatively speaking, it was only yesterday that they were running through jungles without a clue of how an airliner, and an airport, and the entire associated infrastructure works. This is his world before yesterday. He describes how from 1936 until today New Guineans have crossed a bridge that took Western man a millennia to traverse. Diamond is a professor in a California University, and has such has done a lifetime of research in New Guinea which affords a unique perspective on anthropology. The net effect is a book chocked full of trivia blended with long winded anecdotal stories. Unlike his previous books, the reader becomes suspicious that Jared Diamond is getting paid by the word in a very elementary dissertation on the differences in societies. Speed reading becomes essential.
He covers many aspects of societies from rearing children to caring for the elderly and all the dynamics of society in between. Depending on the reader, one chapter may be more intriguing than another. In the end…you are lost for a central theme. So I will limit my review to one piece of trivial perspective Diamond leaves on religion:
“Virtually all known human societies have had “religion,” or something like it. That suggests that religion fulfills some universal human need or at least springs from some part of human nature common to all of us.” …
“Earth was dominated by a life form that call itself humans and clung to some curious ideas. Among those ideas: that there is an all powerful being, called God, which has a special interest in the human species rather than the millions of trillions of other species in the universe, and which humans often picture as similar to human except for being omnipotent.”
Diamond goes on in metaphor to describe an Andromedan space alien who debunks all of the superstitions of religion in the name of science. This is a classic posture of an atheistic professor bent on the war between religion and science as though they are diametrically opposed. However, in my opinion Diamond’s falls far short of giving any sort of academic consideration on either the subject of science or religion. From a scientific aspect, he fails to consider the notion that ideas are synonymous with the function of thought, where thought requires energy. He doesn’t at all explore the science of energy as it transcends from person-to-person, generation-to-generation, society-to-society. This alone puts him on weak footing to draw any contrast on science-v-religion a subject he infers as mystical, where thought transcends through time. Ironically if it’s mystical then it’s as an element of unknown, which science is the study of. He totally misses the power of prayer or meditation. At this point I closed the book…never to finish.
My other Diamond reviews can be found at CigarRoomof Books. Google it if you like.
10 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2013
Diamond's Guns, Germs and Sreel was and remains a seminal work. Unfortunately, every subsequent book has been a pale imitation, and effectively a rehash of his time in PNG.
Overall, there is very little genuinely new material in this book, and as much as it pains me to say, it is boring. I stopped reading it half way through.
51 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2013
The first problem with Diamond's book is that he uses contemporary tribal peoples (of which, in most cases, he has absolutely no first-hand experience) to tell us (the industrialised West) how we used to live. It's nonsense - the notion that today's tribal peoples are in some way a relic of the past has not only been debunked by many scientists, it is also extremely dangerous to the survival of those peoples. The second problem is that he extrapolates wildly from highly questionable data, positing as scientific fact the violent nature of tribal peoples. This he uses to justify his belief that they welcome the imposition of the state. It's the old rhetoric of colonialism and `pacification of the savages' dressed up as science. Were he to be believed, it risks pushing the advancement of human rights for tribal peoples back decades.
Survival International - the organisation fighting for the rights of tribal peoples worldwide since 1969 - will shortly release a critique of Diamond.
59 of 122 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2013
What is the basic idea of this book. It's quite simple. Diamond tries to make the case that primitive peoples in their primitive societies have something valuable to teach us. He tries to make a case for the wisdom of what he calls pre-state peoples.
Diamond has been visiting New Guinea for fifty years. It's what he does. Some people ski others play golf. Diamond likes to go bird watching in the mountains of New Guinea. People who have a strong interest in their hobby often express other ideas in terms of their hobby. That's why there are so many sports references in political speech. I personally tend to see all sorts of social and political issues in terms of Italian opera. For Diamond it's New Guinea natives.
This is a very interesting book and I recommend that everyone read it. But please read something else about New Guinea too. The US State Department issues warnings to travelers about New Guinea. The main city - Port Moresby - may be the most dangerous city on earth. Men are murdered. Women are raped. Everyone is robbed and assaulted. People are cautioned to only go into the bush with care and a trusted guide. There are web sites and Wikipedia articles showing the rampant gang violence. Diamond as a long time expert can go there but you can't. You'd be killed. New Guinea is a terrible place on the human plane of existence. It seems however to be very fine on the song bird plane.
In the first half of the book he tells personal accounts of typical activities in primitive groups and contrasts them with how these events would transpire in a modern nation state like the US. The first example he gives is the story of Gideon and Malo in Chapter Two. In this story Billy, a child, runs out from behind a mini-bus into oncoming traffic. He is killed when Malo's car hits him. Malo who is just an random driver who had no connection with Billy before, immediately vacates the accident scene and goes to the nearest police station.
Diamond explains, "That's because angry bystanders are likely to drag the offending driver from his car and beat him to death on the spot, even if the accident was the pedestrian's fault".
These are highland New Guineans. Billy was a low lander. Everyone involved in this traffic accident worries about a blood feud that erupts into a tribal war between the low-landers and the highlanders. Somehow Gideon the employer of Malo is extorted to pay compensation to some people who claim to be Billy's relatives.
One of the tribal customs that Diamond cites is the practice of killing someone in retribution for some offense or if that's not convenient to just kill a relative of theirs. It doesn't seem to matter just who you kill anymore than it matters if the person was guilty or innocent. At no point in this story does anyone dispute that Billy ran out into traffic and got himself killed. Yet it is only by the thinnest margin that a general war is averted. No one says to Billy's parents - "You should teach your kids to look both ways before they cross the street". No one thinks they should put up some traffic lights or stop signs. They just engage in another round of murderous tribal feuding.
These are the people from whom we are to learn life lessons?
Diamond is obviously deep into the romance of the primitive. A more objective person would see these people as nasty pests. They remind us of the brutal primitive past from which we have emerged.
At one point Diamond mentions that there are more than a thousand separate languages in New Guinea. He mentions wistfully that 95% of these languages will die out in this century. That's supposed to be a bad thing? None of these languages are written. They contain no novels or epics. These people have no literature or science. The uttering in these languages are just crude accounts of daily events in the jungle. There are hundreds of words for the same species of tree or monkey.
It would have been bad if the world had lost Greek before the Renaissance. That would have meant that we would have lost Aristotle and Plato. There was lots of valuable content written in Greek. But what possible loss is their if we lose these obscure proto-languages used by jungle savages?
For that matter, what does it matter if we lose the Yamomano or the !Kung? None of the bands he describes is likely to last longer than this century either. Or if they survive it will only be in something like a zoo. We should prepare for their extinction by studying them. We should have books like this one and movies. They have virtually nothing to teach us but we should garner what there is because they will soon be gone.
Diamond is a very silly man. He likes to watch birds. Fine. Me too. He likes to watch forrest natives cavorting in the jungle. Whatever. Jane Goodall liked to observe chimps. Diane Fossey preferred gorillas. But those women didn't lecture us with the lessons we could learn from the apes.
Around the year 2000 there were two big best sellers that addressed differences in human accomplishment. One was Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel". The other was Lynn and Vanhanen's "The Wealth of Nations". Diamond's argument in G,G&S is recounted in this book on page 19. Lynn's argument is even simpler. He says nation's with smart people are rich.
Currently Diamond is immensely popular with the general public while Lynn is controversial with academics. But Lynn's ideas are likely to endure while Diamond's are already fading. Basically Diamond feels bad about being a member of the dominant culture on earth. He wants everyone to understand that he isn't in any way superior to the savages with whom he congregates. He's eager to demonstrate he's rich and prosperous only because of a series of accidents of history. He's got white guilt bad.
And of course he's dead wrong. He is a superior person. He's a fine writer and has produced a number of excellent books. He claimed in G,G&S that some native was more intelligent than he was. We admire humility but no one really takes him seriously. If we believed him we wouldn't buy his books.
Lynn's book on the other hand says that Koreans are smart. I have a Samsung tablet. I do not own a single electronic device created in New Guinea. Lynn is factual. Diamond is sentimental. He now wants to explain how his beloved primitives have something just as valuable as electronics. They have jungle justice.
That's the first half of the book. The second half is different. He has big chapters on health. These read like they come from a different book. He rails again salt and then against sugar. Much the same information is well known now to the literate public. There are many books that say much the same thing. Everything Diamond writes about in these chapters is more or less correct. Salt does give you high blood pressure and sugar does gives you high blood sugar. You should watch them carefully in your diet. Diamond connects these health concerns to the main theme of the book only awkwardly. He essentially writes a sermon on proper nutrition for Westerners and says New Guinea natives don't have these particular health concerns. But of course he's completely wrong. Western whites get diabetes largely because of their diet but forest people who meet up with civilization soon eat the same way and get even worse diabetes. There is a lesson to be learned here but it is not to do as the natives do. We can learn from these people in the same way we can learn from a jungle mushroom that has some useful chemical properties. The natives can be used as objects of study but that does not mean that they can actually teach us anything. They have no schools, no classrooms, no books.
Danny Kaye was wrong. In his great novelty song "Civilization"(Bongo, bongo, bongo I don't want to leave the Congo) he expressed the viewpoint that was popular in the forties that forest natives are happy. About the same time there was a song "Skokeegan" with the lyrics "Down in Africa, happy, happy Africa". Diamond is part of this older mindset. He warns against romanticizing the natives and their way of life and then does so with a vengeance. The reality is that these pre-state people want to get into the modern world but they are ill equipped to make the transition. They want the peace, order, and prosperity of the modern state. They do not want to stay in the bush and starve and be murdered. All of these tropical peoples make lousy citizens in the modern world. If they stay in their native country they join gangs a who murder and rob. If they go to a developed nation they form gangs who murder and rob.
24 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2013
Here it says it well in this article:
Mr Diamond makes no mention of the brutality and oppression suffered by the people of West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian occupation since 1963, which has led to the killing of at least 100,000 Papuan tribal people at the hands of the Indonesian military.
Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader, said to Survival, `What he (Jared Diamond) has written about my people is misleading (...) he is not writing about what the Indonesian military are doing (...) I saw my people being murdered by Indonesian soldiers and my own Auntie was raped in front of my eyes. Indonesia told the world that this was 'tribal war' - they tried to pretend that it was us that was violent and not them - this book is doing the same. He should apologize.'
link to the article:
16 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2013
While Diamond is an entertaining read, that's all he is. Most of his 'facts,' are simply manipulated numbers and anecdotes. If you're up on your current events and anthropological data and theory you'll find Diamond to be infuriating. I don't need to go through this book point by point, there's plenty of blogs that already have done so. All I need to say is, do proper research on what this author talks about and you'll see that he's got just a bad habit of blowing smoke.
11 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2013
This is crazy, $19.99 for a Kindle book, this better not be the new norm for Kindle books. I'd like to read this title,but I guess I'll wait a couple of years until the price gets down.
My understanding of this problem is that its not the authors fault or Amazons fault, the blame lays at the greedy publisher.
5 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2013
Really wanted to buy this $20 kindle ebook and read it - even if I can't pass it along to another reader (publisher makes the rules, don'tcha know). I guess the cost of virtual trees and ink has gotten so high that I will have to economize and purchase the physical book. It's hard being green.
8 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2013
The book presents a very misleading and untrue image of indigenous peoples and is harmful. Very controversial and definitely bias.
57 of 228 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2013
What brave new world we live in when the Digital Download version of a book costs five dollars more than the price of printing a hardcover version of it and physically moving it around the world.