Saturday, March 15, 2008

Guns, Germs, and Steel

The second of my Book of the Month posts for our student services blog went up yesterday. Fiction next month, Nonfiction again in May (both TBD at this point). I need to have an every-other rule so that I don't focus too much on fiction.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Subtitled "The Fates of Human Societies", Guns, Germs, and Steel won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 1998. Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, sums up the 480-page book with the following sentence: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among the peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves" (25).

The book is divided into four parts. The first part, "From Eden to Cajamarca," discusses the rise of civilization, how geography molded Polynesian society (as a model for understanding the radiation of societies on the continents), and how and why Spanish conquistadors were able to capture the last independent Inca emperor despite being outnumbered 500-to-one. Parts two and three focus on the rise and spread of food production and how that led to the development of writing and technology as well as the evolution of germs. The final part, "Around the World in Five Chapters," explores the implications of these developments on each of the continents.

Though Guns, Germs, and Steel has its critics, it is a fascinating read. And, by the time you finish, you'll have enough cocktail hour discussion fodder for the next five years.

More on GG&S after our book club meeting on the 26th.
Yes, I'll admit it. I killed two birds with one stone by picking our March book club selection to be the March book of the month.


  1. Heh. You are correct about the cocktail chatter. I enjoyed this book a lot and recommend one of the author's later books Collapse as a nice follow up. I didn't find it as interesting as GG&S, but it still gave my stuff to think about.

  2. PS - Russ should read this as well! :)

  3. I was actually reading his copy. :)

    (He agrees with you about 'Collapse' except that he says he learned a lot about the Vikings in Greenland from that one).