... [a] fascinating and extremely important book. uns, Germs, and Steel is a volume no one should leave college without reading. The main argument, in simplified form, should be taught as early as grammar school. That its insights seem so fresh, its facts so novel and arresting, is evidence of how little Americans—and, I suspect, most well-educated citizens of the Western world—know of the most important forces of human history ... This synopsis, unfortunately, doesn't do credit to the immense subtlety of this book, which includes long sections about the use of linguistics to reach conclusions about ancient societies, employs knowledge gained from molecular biology and animal behavior to elucidate events otherwise lost to history, and recounts numerous mysteries about the course of human settlement ... Guns, Germs, and Steel is not without faults, although these are minor. There is a useful bibliographic essay at the end, but in a work with this heft it would have been nice to see footnotes or endnotes. Diamond tends toward the didactic. Parts of the book are repetitious. However, far more important than those quibbles—and actually far more important than the author's erudition—is Diamond's intellectual honesty.
... an ambitious, highly important book ... Before analyzing the deeper (and ultimately accidental) causes behind European domination, Mr. Diamond cleverly finesses the biological determinists with another tale of annihilation of one society at the hands of another ... In similar fashion, Mr. Diamond peels away the causes beneath the causes of other European cultural advantages, as if the humanized world were a gigantic onion and recorded history only its blighted surface. His multilayered analysis, however, should be consumed with a grain or two of salt. Its sheer depth compels him to wear the hats of anthropologist, archeologist, plant geneticist, epidemiologist and social, military and technological historian, as well as his own academic headgear. Mr. Diamond acknowledges that no single person can be an authority in all these fields, yet he mentions most of the other scholars who must have informed his ideas not in the text but only in an addendum. This makes for a smoother exposition, perhaps, but combined with the sometimes didactic style of the narrative, it imparts an unwarranted sense of objectivity, as if everything happened when, where and how in prehistory just as Jared Diamond says it did. Each of the disciplines into which he delves to further his argument is rife with uncertainties, differing interpretations and opposing viewpoints. A closer examination of them would have only strengthened an already formidable work.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is an artful, informative, and delightful book, full of surprises for a historian like myself who is unaccustomed to examining the human record from the vantage point of New Guinea and Australia, as Jared Diamond has set out to do ... there is nothing like a radically new angle of vision for bringing out unsuspected dimensions of a subject, and that is what Jared Diamond has done ... No one can doubt the general accuracy of Diamond’s account of the environmental differences that he makes so much of. Yet one can doubt whether there was not greater scope for what I would call 'cultural autonomy' than is allowed by Diamond’s effort to reduce (or raise?) history to the level of the biological sciences ... Diamond’s effort to make human history 'scientific' by emphasizing the tyranny of natural environments while neglecting the way diverse symbolic worlds shape and reshape human societies and their physical environments thus seems misguided ... I do not accept Diamond’s dismissive appraisal of 'cultural idiosyncrasies unrelated to environment.' A more persuasive view might be to suppose that in the early phases of our history, when technical skills and organizational coordination were still undeveloped, human societies were indeed closely constrained by the local availability of food, as Diamond convincingly argues ... Once again, much of what Diamond has to say in these chapters was entirely new to me.
[Diamond] is broadly erudite, writes in a style that pleasantly expresses scientific concepts in vernacular American English and deals almost exclusively in questions that should interest everyone concerned about how humanity has developed ... Reading Diamond is like watching someone riding a unicycle, balancing an eel on his nose and juggling five squealing piglets. You may or may not agree with him (I usually do), but he rivets your attention ... Diamond ranges across the globe, describing and comparing and casting a cold eye on the process of gaining 'civilization' in one continent and region after another ... Am I a completely gaga Diamond disciple? Well . . . yes, if you mean in comparison with Marx and Spenser and the others who have tried to explain everything. He has stuck to measurable or at least discernible factors. He hasn't slipped off into trances about the youths, senescences, personalities and inalterable destinies of classes, peoples, civilizations. But I do have my complaints. He does love to give chapters names that obscure rather than enlighten ... And when he rushes through areas of scholarship about which I know something, I am often stunned by his simplifications ... This is a wonderfully interesting book, especially for historians of the usual liberal arts background, who will find the final chapter, 'The Future of History as a Science,' alone worth the price of admission ... Think big. Guns, Germs, and Steel is a provocative start.
On the whole this is an impressive achievement, with nods to the historians, anthropologists and others who have laid the groundwork ... The prose is not brilliant, and there are apologies and redundancies that we could do without. But a fair answer to Yali's question this surely is, and gratifyingly, it makes clear that race has nothing to do with who does or does not develop cargo.