Guns, Germs and Steel

The reason why I read this book is because of the podcast Hello Internet, hosted by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, both of whom are educational Youtubers. They discussed this book on a recent podcast, mainly spurred on by the fact that Grey did a video on Americapox, and why the Native Americans were wiped out by disease when Europeans arrived, and not the other way around. You can see that video here

And it’s a really fascinating question, and one which the book tackles. The book also asks the broader ‘Theory of History’ as Grey puts it. Why did history end up the way it did? Why did Eurasia succeed and have technological advances beyond other areas to enable them to colonise the rest of the world? And conversely why didn’t a group like the Aboriginal Australians do this? It’s such a complex question, but one you don’t really think about.

The book is far from perfect. It is very repetitive, the last section where he goes through ‘examples’ of China, New Guinea, etc. get very repetitive. Because he has outlined the ideas earlier and just keeps saying the same thing over and over. And indeed it has many criticisms, such as it being to geography reliant and ignoring human factors, such as political decisions (so is presenting environmental determinism). While these are valid criticisms, from my very non-expert and non-well versed opinion, the ideas put forth from Diamond, seems to make sense. He suggests that it is largely based on your ‘starter kit’. Eurasia had all the good animals fit for domestication, all the good crops, and had easy geography to ensure there was plentiful trade through the areas, so ideas could easily spread. I think that a lot of criticism stems from experts who are annoyed that detail has been neglected or is plain incorrect. And the thing is, that Diamond’s “popular science” novel (which is what it is) is presenting a broad theory about history, it is not the little details he is presenting, but an overall ‘theory of history’. Furthermore, of course detail is going to be glossed over or wrong, this is not a scientific novel per se, it is a novel for the layperson, you cannot expect high level detail, without expanding for hundreds of thousands of pages.

It in reality is a nice theory, and a nice thought exercise, which may make some people of the general public more interested in history and learning a bit more.


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