The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond
Phew! It is a relief to be done with this book. I've been reading it for three weeks! Granted, being sick and starting the garden distracted me a bit, but mostly it was just slow going with the book at times. The reading wasn't quite as heavy as the last book I waded through (Arctic Dreams), it's actually very reader-friendly, but the ideas could be complex and there's a lot of information to take in.
Basically, Guns, Germs and Steel examines how history has created the haves and have-nots of the world, what factors have given certain societies advantages over others. It tries to answer questions like why did agriculture arise in some parts of the world and not in others? why did technology develop faster in different areas? and how were some smaller groups able to easily overpower larger populations? A lot of the ideas were new to me, but made perfect sense the way Diamond described them. I enjoyed reading the parts about why certain animals were domesticated but not others, how agriculture probably began, and what language patterns reveal about how peoples spread and dispersed in ancient times. More difficult for me to process were the sections about things like why societies organized themselves the way they did, which got more and more complicated. What it all boils down to, in Diamond's opinion, is that environment was a huge factor in shaping early human history: local native animals and plants provided different resources for different groups, some far more useful to humans than others, and topography and climate dictated how quickly new technologies could spread.
I had a lot of discussions with my husband about ideas in this book, which helped me to understand them better, and he kept insisting that it was way too simplified to assert that certain societies overran others solely because their environment and resources gave them an advantage. How can you talk about China without considering Confucius? he kept saying to me. How can you discuss the reasons why one country overpowered another without taking into account the cultural reasons? I'm not very good at arguments so I had to just tell him to read the book! One thing I know for sure, Diamond's look at world history is very different from what I remember learning in school, and so many more things make sense to me now.
Rating: 4/5 ........ 494 pages, 1997
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