Book review: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel cover

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company (1997)
Genre: Non-fiction, history, science
Pages: 425

Food production is the answer to everything. This is basically the main message of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Jared Diamond, an American physiologist/geographer, gives a broad overview of the rise of human civilization and why it went faster in some areas of the planet than others. Normally I’m a bit wary when scientist step outside the boundaries of their own expertise and try to say things about fields they have not been trained in. For Diamond, however, I believe he has been travelling so much and has been in contact with so many different cultures and peoples that his knowledge about anthropology is beyond reproach. Together with all the time he has clearly spend thinking about human anthropology and developing the ideas of this book, I consider him one of the exceptions to this rule.

The book is subdivided into four parts. The first one describes the rise of civilizations in the world and poses the main question of the book: why were and are there so many differences between the different geographical areas? Why, for example, did the Spaniards go to Latin America in the 15th century and not the other way around? The second part focuses on the main idea of this book: it’s all about food. The ability to produce food at a large scale seems to be an important predictor of where civilizations rise. Animals, plants, domestication and their connection to geography are highlighted here. But how to get from food production to guns, germs, and steel? Part three draws attention to further implications of being able to provide food to large masses of people. Finally, the book is concluded with some case studies from all over the world in part four.

I found this an immensely interesting book. Diamond addressed so many questions about the origins of civilization that I had never even considered but that appeared to be very interesting. I have to admit, compressing 13.000 years of human history in roughly 400 pages is impressive. All his findings are illustrated by a mass of examples, sometimes so many that I kind of lost the structure of the book. And by having to many examples and explaining situations from the entire world in detail, the book became quite a though read. By the time I ended up almost finishing the book, it was over half a year later. Because of the scientific nature, which added to the overall credibility, I really had to push myself to keep on reading. No matter how interesting the topic was, reading about it became boooooring! The ideas of Diamond, written by someone who can write popular science, would have earned five stars, but Diamond’s heavy style lost two of them.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

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