Book: Guns, germs and steel - Livre d'Or








Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes. * Blogroll * Strange words * More links * Bookies * Microblog * Recent comments * Humans only * Second degree * By topic * Cool posts * Writing * New post

Tags

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *



livredor
Book: Guns, germs and steel
Thursday, 31 July 2003 at 10:50 pm
Tags:

Previous Entry Next Entry


Author: Jared Diamond

Details: (c) Jared Diamond 1997; Pub Vintage 1998; ISBN 0-09-930278-0

Verdict: Everything popular science should be; informative, readable, well-argued and rigorous

Reasons for reading it: Several reasons: I became a fan of Diamond from reading Why is sex fun? a while ago; it was recommended by several friends as well as various media; and I'm interested in its subject matter. I had in fact started reading my parents' copy, but this was while I was hanging around in hospital waiting rooms, so I didn't take much in and anyway didn't get past the first couple of chapters.

How it came into my hands: M lent it to me, after I'd mentioned the above reasons for wanting to read it, and also because it was relevant to some of the stuff we've been talking about.

Diamond seems to have a knack for asking good questions. The question in Guns, germs and steel is about why Westerners conquered most of the rest of the world, rather than being conquered by it. He dismisses the 'obvious' answers, namely racial superiority and better technology, the first on the grounds that, duh, he's not racist as there is no scientific grounds for racism, and the second because it simply postpones the question. He sets out to demonstrate why Western society developed so much better technology than the rest of the world.

The other thing about Diamond is that he's incredibly erudite. He's quite capable, even well qualified, to talk about 13000 years of human history across the whole planet, from the point of view of an evolutionary biologist, a linguist, a social anthropologist etc etc. And he does so extremely well. His style is consistently engaging, he's very good at putting across complex subjects without over-simplifying. Plus he makes a clear distinction between what is accepted fact, what is controversial (and gives a fair hearing to views that disagree with his), and what is his own personal opinion or speculation. I really wish more pop science books were like this!

GG&S is also successful because the thread of the argument is very clear; the overall point never gets lost in the detail. Actually, Diamond perhaps goes a little too far with this; he reiterates his central argument so much that the book starts to become repetitive. Almost the whole of the final third of the book is spent summarizing the points made in the first two thirds; I feel that the balance is slightly wrong here. However, it's preferable to err in this direction than to write confusingly, especially as the range of subjects is so broad and the argument so complex.

I was particularly endeared by the diversions into linguistics, but also learnt a lot and enjoyed the learning about subjects less dear to me. And the sections dealing with straight biology, genetics, etc were covered in enough detail to be interesting, even though I'm far from a layman in this respect.

Also some interesting remarks in the epilogue about scientific methodology and how to move beyond the testable hypotheses paradigm. In short, highly recommended, despite a few minor flaws.


Moooood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Tuuuuune: Joni Mitchell
Discussion: 14 contributions | Contribute something
Tags:

Previous Entry Next Entry




Contribute something
View all comments chronologically



pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:August 1st, 2003 12:50 pm (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 12:50 pm (pw201's time)
(Link)
I've got about three quarters of the way through it. I did find the repetition a little wearing, which is what's stopped me from finishing it. He's clearly well travelled though. I enjoyed the anecdotes about New Guinea and so on.

Must finish the thing so I can read the epilogue :-)
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 1st, 2003 03:33 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 03:33 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Hello, I don't think we've actually met, have we? But you know jacquic and shreena, right? Anyway, pleased to 'meet' you.

I finished GG&S because a book has to be really exceptionally bad for me not to get through it. But I was getting increasingly bored by the last section. There are more anecdotes, which are still cool, but they're supporting the same old points.

I'd not feel ashamed to skip the last several chapters and just read the epilogue.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:August 1st, 2003 05:58 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 05:58 pm (pw201's time)
(Link)
But you know jacquic and shreena, right?

Yes, and some of the other perse girls, like elemy, Becky and Alice (the common interest here being ballroom dancing). And I know lisekit, too, whose friends page I came in from. Small world. Well met, anyway.

I'd not feel ashamed to skip the last several chapters and just read the epilogue.

I expect I'll get to it after I've got through terriem's copy of "Carter Beats the Devil" (which is more interesting, if a little less educational :-)

(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 2nd, 2003 12:07 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:07 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Well, this would explain why you come out first in my trust pyramid... It's bad enough that there's a persegirl mafia in Oxbridge, but it looks as if we're heading towards establishing a persegirl mafia online as well!

As ever, yay for LJ connections.


(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:August 3rd, 2003 11:04 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:04 pm (pw201's time)
(Link)
The trust pyramid thingy is overloaded at the moment, which is a shame, as I find all that trust metric stuff interesting. The linked discussion is in the context of who you trust enough to receive email from them, but I also think things like Friendster and FOAF are quite cool too, although they also look a bit like solutions looking for a problem.

The user connection tool is quite nice, too, and seems to be on a more powerful computer.

It's bad enough that there's a persegirl mafia in Oxbridge, but it looks as if we're heading towards establishing a persegirl mafia online as well!

It's a small world after all! (cue irritating music) I did suggest that some male Cambridge Dancer's Club members should also have perse-girl on their list of "Interests" :-)

I've added you to my friends thing as you write interesting stuff and are probably not an axe-murderer. Feel free to reciprocate if you like: I'm not quite sure what the etiquette of these things is.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 4th, 2003 12:35 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 12:35 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
The trust pyramid thingy is overloaded at the moment
My impression is that the guy just hooked his algorithm up to LJ friends lists in order to give it a data set, and was expecting only mathmos to be interested. He didn't realize its potential as an LJ toy or that word of it would spread virally.

The linked discussion
Mm, very interesting, thanks. Some of your technical anti-spam stuff is a bit beyond me, but I'm interested in the general ideas.

LJ connect I already knew; in fact, it's one of the things I used to work out how I was connected to you and that you're not just a random who surfed into my journal. I like the FOAF theory of putting all this kind of information together, but I think it's of limited application simply because the circumstances in which you don't want all your personal information linked to your email address rather outweigh the circumstances in which you do. LJ is actually quite a good start, in many ways.

some male Cambridge Dancer's Club members should also have perse-girl on their list of "Interests" :-)
*cackle* I'm trying to persuade people that the consensus should be for the plural, that way people could more easily be interested in perse-girls as well as being perse-girls themselves.

you write interesting stuff and are probably not an axe-murderer
Well, thank you for the first! As for the second, I'm not sure how you deduced more than that I'm a sufficiently intelligent axe-murderer not to advertise my axe-murdering activities in LJ... But anyway.

Feel free to reciprocate
Indeed, you are now friended.

I'm not quite sure what the etiquette of these things is.
No, neither am I. It seems to vary hugely depending which corner of LJ you're in. Myself, I friend people without asking, though I am a bit more cautious about commenting in strangers' journals. And if people friend me, I don't automatically friend back, but I'm quite likely to. I most certainly have never been offended by someone else's friending me, with or without permission.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
terriem: Me
From:terriem
Date:August 2nd, 2003 03:07 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 03:07 pm (terriem's time)
(Link)
Paul, are you enjoying Carter beats the Devil? I think it's a great book and it would be interesting to see what someone with a less historical perspective thinks.

Hi livredor! *waves* Sorry to hijack your comments page for a superfluous discussion. Just so you know who I am, I used to live with Jacqui (at Jesus) and now live with Lise.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 2nd, 2003 03:14 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 03:14 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Hello Terrie, nice to meet you. I wouldn't use words like hijack or superfluous; this journal keeps open house, anyone is welcome to hang out here. If anything I'm flattered that my readership extends further than I'd realized. Welcome!
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
terriem: default
From:terriem
Date:August 2nd, 2003 03:38 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 03:38 pm (terriem's time)
(Link)
My talent for distracting myself from work takes me far and wide into the LiveJournal world. Also, you're at the top of my trust matrix, so you're a very close port of call. Thank you for the welcome!
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:August 3rd, 2003 11:22 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:22 pm (pw201's time)
(Link)
I posted a reply but it seems to have vanished. Ho hum. Sorry if this appears twice.

Yes, I enjoyed it (I've now finished). It was gripping in places. I cared about the characters. I guess what I wouldn't have picked up on were the historical references and cameos, although I did know the name of Philo Farnsworth before reading the book.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
rysmiel: default
From:rysmiel
Date:August 1st, 2003 02:08 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 10:08 am (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
My understanding of the background, fwiw, is that Diamond wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee as a summary of the state of knowledge about the human species at the time, which strikes me as a seriously ambitious undertaking, and then expanded Guns, Germs and Steel from a single chapter in Third Chimpanzee which was attracting a great deal of response.

I agree with you about his erudition; I'd not say Guns, Germs and Steel told me anything staggeringly new, but I've never seen the like for pulling in knowledge from loads of different directions to support a thesis. I did get the slight feeling reading it that the ideal target audience is an intelligent person from a Middle American creationist/fundamentalist background who has just heard mention of evolution as applied to humanity and wants to give the idea a fair shake.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 1st, 2003 02:58 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 02:58 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee as a summary of the state of knowledge about the human species at the time
Yes, I was thinking that I probably ought to read that one as well...

a single chapter in Third Chimpanzee which was attracting a great deal of response
Ah, that might explain why he keeps going on about how not racist he is. I thought it was worth stating as a sort of starting disclaimer, but he does keep hammering the point.

erudition
Get darcydodo to tell you some of her anecdotes about Diamond at some point (he's a colleague of her mother's and thus part of her LA social circle).

pulling in knowledge from loads of different directions to support a thesis
Oh, entirely, it's the way he argues that makes this book stand out, not the string of facts and anecdotes or the skimming treatment of various fields of endeavour.

the ideal target audience
You don't have to be a skeptical creationist to have gaps in your knowledge about the modern view of evolution, let alone human evolution. Plenty of people haven't even got as far as The Selfish Gene, let alone something like this.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
wychwood: default
From:wychwood
Date:August 1st, 2003 09:54 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry
(Link)
Darcy knows him? Cool :)

This a great book. Our (evil-sadistic-bitch-queen-from-Hell) school librarian recommended it to me when I was about 14 or 15; I was rather dubious, but absolutely loved it. I won't say it was responsible for my choice of degree, but it's certainly very relevant...

I agree with whoever it was said that there wasn't much *new* in the book, but I don't think that's the point. It's a tremendously clear, logical and straightforward summary of an amazingly broad field. I can't think of one other person I've come across who has anything like that breadth of knowledge; he doesn't bombard with detail, but he provides enough to prove that he really does know what he's talking about.

I must read Rise and Fall; I kept meaning to, but never got around to it before.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: default
From:livredor
Date:August 2nd, 2003 12:14 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:14 pm (livredor's time)

(Link)
Darcy knows him? Cool :)
Yay for shameless second-hand namedropping!

Very interesting to get a perspective on GG&S from someone who comes to it from the anthropology side rather than the biology side.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)



Contribute something
View all comments chronologically