Interesting arguments, presented in a very clear and matter-of-fact way. Was not a fan of the prose however. Very dry, chapters did not really seem to flow together. Given such a gripping topic, would have expected a bit more page "turn-ability".
Tremendous scholarly work. Ever wonder why some societies, such as African and South American, for example, have not "progressed" to the levels of others in economic and military terms? Ever suspect that the answer is innate intelligence? Diamond disproves this idea with resounding insight. His surprising answer to this question is basically "geography." That plus the lack of domesticatable animals and grains. The geography answer may be perplexing, until you consider that in Eurasia successful crops could be exported very widely with little latitudinal change. Not so in North-South land masses. (From a developmental standpoint, the US is largely European.)
It all boils down historically to the change in a society from hunter-gatherers (nomads) to agricultural (settled) civilizations. It is the latter that enables specialization of labor. When everyone is struggling to feed themselves and their families on a day to day basis, there is no luxury of allowing the rise of a craftsman class, a warrior class, etc., etc.
The great news from Diamond is that most of the old rules no longer apply in a modern "flat" world, so these natural obstacles to development in Africa, e.g., are in the process of being removed as economics allow.
You will never look at the world around you in the same way after reading this book. It gives some interesting answers as to how different cultures where shaped depending upon where they were located and and the food that was available.
I liked this book. It is well researched and the information is very interesting. However, the book reads like a doctoral thesis and can be dry and technical. It does a very good job in answering the difficult question why Eurasian societies developed earlier/faster than other societies and were able to conquer other socities like the Americas. The easy answer is the immediate causes found in the title, guns, germs, and steel. However, this book tries to answer the question with the ultimate causes. Long answer short the differences between the continents in several environmental factors that led to Eurasian societies developing farming earlier than other societies or some societies not developing farming at all.
Iconic work in the field demonstrating how accidents of geography and geographical biology led to the development of food production in certain locales, which in turn led to sedentary societies, increased population, and crowd-based diseases, which led to job specialization and to more inventors being born, which gave certain peoples a head start on developing technologies and germs that allowed them to defeat other people not so endowed.
Bob R. reviewed Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Civilizations Rise and Fall, Bk 1) on + 9 more book reviews
Interesting explanation of how civilizations have developed, conquered each other, and spread across the globe. Personally, I think he tries unconvincingly to assure the reader that intelligence has nothing to do with the results.
Although a far worse attempt could have been made, the book's central thesis of environmental essentialism is a mistaken one. Diamond makes a compelling argument for the importance of environmental factors in determining human history, but takes that truth and stretches it to false heights, to the point of making incorrect and bizarre statements, such as the "fact" that zebras cannot be trained and domesticated (they can) and that a contributing factor to China's decline was the fact that the Chinese coastline is not convoluted enough for dissidents to hide in.
Again, not a terrible book, but unfortunately in trying to make a case for the importance of surroundings (which it does), it started making incorrect claims.
A good counter to this book is Wade's "A Troublesome Inheritance" (ISBN 9780143127161).
Reading this book was an eye opening experience. Since I was a teenager watching Albert Sweitzer on TV in Africa, I wondered, why are there so many disparities and inequalities in the world populations? Why is Africa so poor? How, if we all came out of Africa, we're not all black? Jared Diamond attempts to answer those questions and many more in a very straightforward, scientific manner. His writing can be a little on the dull side sometimes, but then there are many places in the book where he makes the topic a little lighter. This is not a book you'll read in one sitting, or stay up all night to read, but it is written very well, and it has helped me to understand a lot better how we all came to be who we are, and where we "fit" into the world. I would highly recommend the National Geographic made film of this book, Mr. Diamond is a principle narrator in it. It's available on Netflix. Do read the book first, the film understandably condenses much of the book, and you'll miss being able to study the maps and diagrams which the book has many of.
From the back cover: "Fascinating .... Lays a foundation for understanding human history." --Bill Gates.
"Artful, informative, and delightful.... There is nothing like a radically new angle of vision for bringing out unsuspected dimensions of a subject, and that is what Jared Diamond has done." --William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books
"An ambitious, highly important book." --James Shreeve, New York Times Book Review