Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Book review: 'Guns, germs and steel' by Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond's 'Guns, germs and steel' was first published in 1998. I bought it a few months ago from Avid Reader because it was one of my Dad's favourite books; a much-thumbed and re-re-re-read volume always in reach and which I was constantly advised to read.

So I finally picked it up for myself because I felt it would be one of those volumes that would stay with me for years and years, be re-read many times and make my book collection look that little more intelligent.

'Guns, germs and steel' is a 'brief' history of how human history evolved. How people moved across the world, evolved and how groups came to be 'the-haves' and others the 'have-nots'. Why was it that Europeans developed at a seeming faster rate than so many other groups and were the ones to charter the ocean and invade and sometimes conquer peoples in the new world

Diamond quickly dismisses any simple, racist explanation that some people are better / smarter / more innovative and inventive and spends 425 pages explaining why what happened, happened.

I love science books. I love reading about history and the history of 'things' – cod, salt, tobacco. Reading about the history of these seminal resources or developments in human history is absolutely fascinating, plus makes you better at post-wine-bottles small talk.

'Guns, germs and steel' is easy to read and easy to understand. There are times when Diamond talks about 'other works in this field' etc. and 'calibrated' and 'uncalibrated' time and I start skim-reading like I'm reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' and skipping over the Russian names, but the assumptions of pre-comprehension are minimal.

It's a fascinating read. I now know why human history unfolded the way it did. Why so many societies – including Aboriginal Australians - remained hunter-gatherers until the arrival of Europeans and their crops and animals. Why crops and animals spread so easily across Eurasia, allowing it to become the most advanced continent but didn't spread from North to South America. Why certain diseases from certain parts of the world developed and allowed their transmitters to conqueor by infection but not the reverse. It is fascinating.

If you wanted to read a potted history of why human history panned out the way it did, this is the book to read. Buy and read, because you're going to want it on your shelves.

In one sentence: A seminal, comprehensive work on the how's and why's human history unfolded the way it did that will live on your bookshelf for the rest of your life.

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