aught out this week – still slugging through Seven Eves, and didn’t get a short story done that I was also attempting a stopgap with. So, to fulfill my effort to review every week (something I’ve managed for years) I’m hauling something off the shelf and doing it out of memory.
So, Guns, Germs, and Steel looks at the broad idea of racial technological acceleration. Why do some races have everything (and are rich, floating in iPads and Burger Kings and nuclear bombers) and others are nothing more than muddy townships of rusting castoff technology? Is it the people of the race that determine their outcome or more external reasons? Specifically, if the human race evolved out of Africa and spread from there, following animals and moving out to find open lands, why, when the two waves of settlement crash together, why was one side so further advanced? Specifically, when the Spanish landed in the new world, why did they have the guns, the germs, and the steel?
The answers author Diamond proposes are controversial (and, yes, this book has seen a lot of criticism). A lot of it comes from the layout of fertile areas which allow for the spread of agriculture. Grains that work in one area might work fine 1000 miles east or west, but fail miserably 100 miles north. And with agriculture, races and their civilizations enjoyed more stability. Rather than packing everything up and moving after a herd of bison every week, agriculture requires granaries and other elements of a township, which result in government, organized religion, experimenting with metals, all leading to advantages that large, unified collectives share over smaller disjointed ones.
The second stage booster is the development of animal husbandry. If agriculture is a good thing, harnessing animals to do the heavy work (plowing and such) is an even greater boost. But it isn’t simply a matter of deciding, “Hey, today, let’s round up some animals”. They have to be located around you, and they have to be domesticatable (sure, a zebra looks like a horse but no mater how much you try to train them, they will still bite and kick given the chance). With animals, your society improves even quicker, and yet your cities become dirtier. All that manure that lies about, steaming. All those diseases and plagues that weed out the weaker gene lines. And so, yes, when you meet a nation that has not enjoyed a thousand years of cow shit in their streets, those less-resilient humans drop like flies. One only has to look at the massive dieback of native Americans after the arrival of the Spanish to see this in action.
So, sure, the book as plenty of detractors and controversies. But regardless of your resistance, or your thoughts that Diamond might overstress one point or belabor another, it does succeed in that it makes you see the world differently. The technical/societal/cultural evolution of the various peoples of Earth becomes less of an even start of a Sid Meier’s Civilization game and more of a game of cards, where the advantages lay in fated order inside the deck, and the racial players do the best they can with the hands they have been dealt. In my mind, the book is worth the Pulitzer it received. Yes, its big and long and often belaboring, but it’s also eye-opening and informational. You won’t be the same person coming out of this work than you were going in. And I don’t say that about many books.
For you intellectuals out there, a must-read.
>>>THE POOR PHOENICIANS OF MY TWO NOVELS, SLOWLY RUNNING OUT OF THEIR OWN RESOURCES (TIMBER) AND THEN RUNNING UP AGAINST A NUMBER OF OTHER RACES WHO PUT MORE EFFORT INTO THEIR EMPIRES AND ARMIES THAN THAN THESE TRADER FOLKS DID. BUT THESE HISTORICAL FICTIONS ARE HERE – HAVE A LOOK DOWN THIS LINK!<<<