A story about this — 6 years ago
I finished it! You don’t know how many nights this book has put me to sleep. It has been on the top of my All Consuming list for so long that I thought it deserved its own blog post.
Jared Diamond is one fascinating thinker. He teaches in a medical school, has done biological research for as long as I’ve been alive, and yet his best known books, this one and Collapse, are really history. And anthropology. And a lot of other disciplines all combined into something new. He calls it “history’s broadest pattern” and I get that as I am a person who sees patterns and connections that other people too often (according to me) overlook.
Guns, Germs and Steel looks at the last 13,000 or so years of human history and asks why it has been dominated by Europeans. Diamond doesn’t believe it is because of any innate ability or intelligence. The title of the book comes from the proximate causes of the domination but what Diamond is looking for, arguing for, is what is the ultimate cause. And that is fascinatingly environment. Put in way too simple of terms, environment enhanced agriculture which increased population which increased invention which increased the engulfment of the rest of the world.
The lessons from that are fascinating when applied to the modern world and even to the world of our own making. I looked at the old husband and said, you know, we’re just iron age farmers. And we could easily enough be stone age farmers. And a huge large part of what we’ve done with our lives is try to withdraw our support from the kleptocracy.
My favorite quote from this book is, well, I can’t find it right now so I’ll paraphrase: “Invention is the mother of necessity.” Think about it. Gasoline was a dangerous by-product . . . until someone came up for a use for it in the IC engine. And this computer, necessity? Naw.
This book did take me forever to finish because it is like a text book. Diamond does not write in a fluid, organic way, but in an overly academic way. You know, he says, “In this chapter we will look at blah blah blah.” Couldn’t we just go ahead and look at it without the preamble and the summation and the redundancy in later chapters too? Ok, the style has its uses but I wish the man had a touch of the storyteller in him.