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Guns, Germs and Steel

by Jared Diamond

Publishers Weekly In a boldly ambitious analysis of history's broad patterns, evolutionary biologist Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee) identifies food production as a key to the glaring inequalities of wealth and power in the modern world. Dense, agriculture-based populations, unlike relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherers, bred chiefs, kings and bureaucratic "kleptocracies" that transferred wealth from commoners to upper classes. Such bureaucracies, Diamond maintains, were essential to organizing wars of conquest; moreover, farming societies were able to support full-time craft specialists who developed technical innovations and steel weapons. As a result, European conquerors and their colonizing descendants, bringing guns, cavalry and infectious diseases, overwhelmed the native peoples of North and South America, Africa and Australia. Using molecular biological studies, Diamond, a professor at UCLA Medical School, illuminates why Eurasian germs spreading animal-derived diseases proved so devastating to indigenous societies on other continents. Refuting racist explanations for presumed differences in intelligence or technological capability and eschewing a Eurocentric worldview, he argues persuasively that accidental differences in geography and environment, combined with centuries of conquest, genocide and epidemics, shaped the disparate populations of today's world. His masterful synthesis is a refreshingly unconventional history informed by anthropology, behavioral ecology, linguistics, epidemiology, archeology and technological development. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC, History Book Club, QPB and Newbridge Book Clubs selections. (Mar.)

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Choice At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this usually soft spoken academic is willing to assert that Diamond's book is one of very few that could have a real impact on world understanding if it were widely read. Diamond wrestles with the huge question of why some societies became so rich and powerful -- and why others remain relatively poor and powerless. To answer so enormous a question, the author addresses many other fundamental questions. Among these are how and why did food production begin? What differences did this make? How did it spread? Why were some animals domesticated and others not? How did writing evolve, and why does it matter? Diamond poses similar questions with respect to technology, religion, and government. He writes clearly and in an engrossing manner, with a consistent (but not heavy-handed) grounding in evolutionary theory. He is a biologist who neatly interweaves data and insights from many other disciplines, including geography and anthropology, which are too often overlooked. A subsidiary theme of this work is discrediting racist theories of history, which Diamond does deftly and consistently throughout, with no resort to polemic. Several apt but unfamiliar illustrations complement the text, which is thoroughly authoritative despite the absence of footnotes or endnotes. A discursive bibliographic essay on each chapter can be helpful to anyone who wants to pursue a topic in greater depth. All levels. D. B. Heath; Brown University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Library Journal Most of this work deals with non-Europeans, but Diamond's thesis sheds light on why Western civilization became hegemonic: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves." Those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing writing, government, technology, weapons of war, and immunity to deadly germs. (LJ 2/15/97) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal In the course of history, some groups conquered, some were conquered. UCLA physiology professor Diamond investigates why, arguing that it has nothing to do with race.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Why is history so dramatically different for peoples around the world? Why did some groups become literate industrial societies with metal tools while others remained nonliterate farming societies, and still others remained hunter-gatherers with stone tools? The resultant inequalities have led historically to the extermination or conquest of some groups by more advanced, literate societies. Biologist Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee, LJ 3/15/92) here combines a study of human history with science, specifically evolutionary biology and geology. His starting point is 11,000 B.C., when large differences began to appear in the rates at which human societies evolved. Diamond examines on a global scale the development of farming, domestication of plants and animals, creation of writing, and advancement of technology. He maintains that it was such environmental benefits as the availability of certain key species and plants, as well as geographical placement, that gave the advantage to Eurasia over the rest of the world, rather than any biological advantages of one race over the others. A provocative book that will appeal to general readers as well as scholars; recommended for most libraries. BOMC, History Book Club, Quality paperback Books, and Newbridge Book Club selections.?Ed.]?Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., Kan.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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