I Wanna Be Literated #177

I Wanna Be Literated #177

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Saturday, 17 March 2018
BOOKS

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

by Jared Diamond (Folio Society edition)

 

This book has been lingering in my mind for quite some time now, and I’ve been putting it off for as long as I can remember. Not helping are my friends who’ve tried reading the book, who tell me they had to put it down halfway because it was just too dense and not what they were looking for. But now, after finally reading it, I have to lump in Guns, Germs, and Steel with other must-read books.

What Jared Diamond does here is basically ask why. Why have certain societies dominated while others have crumbled? Why have certain societies succeeded in raising the living standards of their population, or succeeded in building an empire, or conquered other societies, and why are others living in such poverty and apparent “backwardness.” Diamond does the proper scientific thing right at the beginning of the book and clarify that asking such a question has nothing to do with racism, but everything to do with raising our levels of understanding. He does this probably because he realizing that asking such a question makes some people think of racial superiority. But his study shows that it’s anything BUT that.

Guns, Germs and Steel gives a rundown of human civilization mostly starting from about 13,000 years ago and goes through each continent. Diamond’s writing is thorough, easy to follow, and effective and yes, a bit dense at times , but isn’t that what we want from a book with such a massive scope? The pattern that he finds? Well, when civilizations clash, it’s Guns, Germs, and Steel that usually dictates who the victor will be. In other words, it’s whoever has the superior weapons, whoever carries (and is immune to) the new diseases, and whoever has the superior technology and modes of transportation such as boats, horses, language, and tools to help them adapt to this new land. And what caused some societies to have these Guns, Germs, and Steele. It seems to come down to denser populations, better climate, a government that looks outwards (in order to learn) instead of inward, and most importantly food availability.

And this is actually one of my gripes with this book, which is that it should have been called Guns, Germs, Steel, and Food. Diamond spends a large part of this book persuading the reader that the environment that ancient populations found themselves in largely dictated what kind of available farmable crops and domisticable animals they had available to them. If they were lucky enough to be in areas such as the Fertile Crescent (around Turkey and Iraq), then there were plenty of available native cereal crops that “farmers” could use to experiment with and plenty of wild animals that could be domesticated. With surplus food, comes surplus time, which allows for invention. If you were unlucky enough to be in a place like Australia (the driest continent on earth) then most of your efforts would be focused on finding food, and nothing else. So really, it’s easy access to food that allows for the development of Guns, Germs, and Steel.

This is a book that needs to be read by everyone, and for such a valuable book, there’s nothing like the Folio Society edition. Housed in a massive hardcover and slipcase, beautifully decorated, and containing additional photographs depicting different cultural and racial elements, it’s the definitive version of this book. Display it proudly in your bookcase, and keep it protected. This is one of those books that’s worth revisiting again and again.

Get it straight from Folio. 

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