5 Reasons I Wish I Did Not Read Guns, Germs, and Steel and 7 Reasons I am Glad I Did


Have you ever started a book club and picked a book, read the first chapter and wondered if you will get fired? I have. I even questioned if I should post this online. When they say don't judge a book by its cover, there is a reason. I really liked the cover.

Also, the title is super cool: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. It has been on my list for years. Then add the fact that it is the 20th Anniversary Edition, won a Pulitzer Prize, and Amazon (today) rates it with 2,461 4.5 stars! I could not resist. Thus I invited my friends to read this book with me.

The big idea of the book from the author is, "THIS BOOK ATTEMPTS TO PROVIDE A SHORT HISTORY OF everybody for the last 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is: Why did history unfold differently on different continents?... The book’s emphasis is on the search for ultimate explanations, and on pushing back the chain of historical causation as far as possible.... Until we have some convincing, detailed, agreed-upon explanation for the broad pattern of history, most people will continue to suspect that the racist biological explanation is correct after all. That seems to me the strongest argument for writing this book."

Jared Diamond disappointed me. Let me count the ways.

5 Reasons I Wish I Did Not Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

  1. Professor Diamond, Ph.D. is a teacher of geography at UCLA. He has a background in evolutionary biology. I would agree micro-evolution exists within species (i.e., dogs, finches), but not macroevolution. I think his effort to adopt a macroevolutionary theory and then ditch his theory when it comes to the survival of one people group over another seems illogical. My issue is one on a principle that goes beyond the author. To say genetically one species evolved like the homo sapiens over the neanderthal leads to a question of what is the next step towards evolutionary progress. Who is the superior group in our species? (He acknowledges the early racism of Darwinian theorists). Professor Diamond instead ignores this issue and sees some humans as smarter. He attributes the environment as the reasoning for the success of one group rather than biological. See this article for more information on the subject.  
  2. Professor Diamond's digs deep for ultimate causes and ends up leaning on accident. Accidentally, one group survived, and the other didn't. As a Christian pastor, I see providence as the unseen hand that is the ultimate cause.
  3. I would love for Professor Diamond to captivate me more. Paint the picture of the planet. Share more of the story with me. Even if he has to speculate, make it exciting. It was hard to keep reading through to the end of the 480 pages.  
  4. I was often wondering, "Where are you coming up with your facts professor?" It isn't until the end of the book that he shares resources for further reading. I think the publisher did a disservice to this work putting them at the end. It seems like Jared Diamond may be an outstanding professor/lecturer, but how do I trust him. I am suspicious of self-proclaimed authorities. I would like to know where he is getting his information earlier on in the book. 
  5. He seems to have a dislike for missionaries putting them on the level with bureaucrats and germs. He could have included many other external forces deculturizing indigenous people. 

7 Things I learned 

  1. I didn't realize that having a continent that is more North/South vs. East/West can inhibit the development of agriculture. That was fascinating and made sense to me. 
  2. I didn't realize that language study can tell us a lot about where people migrated from. 
  3. I didn't realize that linguists see many of these patterns. 
  4. I didn't realize that the distribution of domestic animals and plants that could be eaten were not evenly distributed across the continents. 
  5. I didn't realize evolution leads to an assumption that things are evolving including humanity. Therefore, some humans are further along. Hence, if you adhere to macroevolution and you find the fittest society, it is only natural to promote their survival and not promote the survival of the lesser evolved human beings. 
  6. I didn't realize how horrible the religious justification existed documenting the destruction of the Incas. Horrible. 
  7. The history behind the QWERTY keyboard was neat.

QUOTES

  • "However, archaeological excavations, and scrutiny of descriptions left by the very first European explorers on our coasts, now suggest an initial number of around 20 million Indians. For the New World as a whole, the Indian population decline in the century or two following Columbus’s arrival is estimated to have been as large as 95 percent."
  • "For instance, the Indian population of Hispaniola declined from around 8 million, when Columbus arrived in A.D. 1492, to zero by 1535."
  • "Measles reached Fiji with a Fijian chief returning from a visit to Australia in 1875, and proceeded to kill about one-quarter of all Fijians then alive (after most Fijians had already been killed by epidemics beginning with the first European visit, in 1791). Syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and influenza arriving with Captain Cook in 1779, followed by a big typhoid epidemic in 1804 and numerous “minor” epidemics, reduced Hawaii’s population from around half a million in 1779 to 84,000 in 1853, the year when smallpox finally reached Hawaii and killed around 10,000 of the survivors."
  • "Still another factor is compatibility with vested interests. This book, like probably every other typed document you have ever read, was typed with a QWERTY keyboard, named for the left-most six letters in its upper row. Unbelievable as it may now sound, that keyboard layout was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scattering the commonest letters over all keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right-handed people have to use their weaker hand). The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick succession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improvements in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then. The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency for over 60 years."
  • "The mind-boggling complexities of Africa’s 1,500 languages were clarified by Stanford University’s great linguist Joseph Greenberg, who recognized that all those languages fall into just five families (see Figure 19.2 for their distribution)."
  • "In short, Europe’s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography—in particular, to the continents’ different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate."
I am not going to get fired for suggesting the reading of this book. I learned more than I thought. The book provoked much thought. Discussing the book will be exciting. I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Comment below. 



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