Thursday, 29 March, 2001

Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

I was browsing a bookstore in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last month when I ran across the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.  This Pulitzer Prize winning book (subtitled "The Fates of Human Societies) "attempts," as the preface to the paperback edition says, "to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years.  The question motivating the book is:  Why did history unfold differently on different continents?"

What a fascinating book!  The author traces mankind's history since about 12,000 B.C. (the dawn of food production) up to the late Renaissance period, with most of the time spent on earlier periods.  The focus is on why things happened, rather than when who did what to whom.  The author is a scientist by training, and his application of the scientific method to historical research results in a much more interesting read, and more believable conclusions.  Not only do I see the conclusions, but I can follow the trail of evidence that leads to the conclusion.  And, no, the conclusion isn't racist (i.e. that one race or another is genetically superior).  Quite to the contrary.  The author's one-sentence summation of the book is: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people's environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves."  The 425 pages that follow this statement make a very compelling case.  

The book is written in layman's terms without sounding condescending.  It's a pleasure to read.  I highly recommend this book to anybody who's interested in understanding how our societies came to be what  they are today.