I’ve set myself a few reading goals this year, and one of those goals is to try to read more non-fiction. I’d bought a copy of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond about six months ago but it had been gathering dust on my bookshelf until I got about halfway through a Hello Internet podcast. I didn’t want to be swayed by their discussion before I had a chance to read the book myself, so I pressed pause and pulled it off the shelf.
“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is a macrohistory that seeks to explain why it was that some groups of people were able to become so much more technologically advanced than others. Diamond’s research leads him to conclude (and don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, because he tells you right from the get go) that instead of being the result of genetics or inherent intelligence, the reason some groups of people were able to develop more technologies is directly attributable to environmental factors. Factors that were particularly conducive to development included easily domesticated species of plants and animals and good climates.
The incredible thing about this book is that it flies right in the face of racism. Diamond has some really interesting and well-thought out theories about what made some groups of people more “successful” than others. While these theories are themselves not necessarily determinative of population outcomes, Diamond is able to convincingly argue that societies in particular environments are more likely to develop advanced technologies than those in harsh environments.
Where “Guns, Germs, and Steel” falls down though is in its readability. It is a pretty laborious book to get through. Diamond knows that he’s onto something pretty clever, but the time he spends going over and over his theory, and every single aspect and argument is far too much. The book is so repetitive that at times it’s excruciating. Diamond just rehashes each point he makes so many times that there really isn’t any point in the book where you’re reading new information except for the introduction. The edition I bought was the first edition, published in 1997, so I’m not sure how much of the book has been amended in later editions. Nevertheless, the first edition was in serious need of some good editing.
The premise of this book is fascinating and well-worth a read just for that alone. I wouldn’t bother trying to plow through the entire book though. Unless someone took to it with a pair of proverbial clippers, it is so repetitive that you’ll get the bulk of the information you need just from the first couple of chapters alone.