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Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel

lionsroar13

New Member
Oh and as to the original post, I have recently read 2 of David McCulloughs (prize winning author, anyway)books and enjoyed them very much.
Mornings on Horseback
1776
 

fabkebab

New Member
We once had a friend who was a bit of a know-it-all (he had an opinion on every topic) - we were going on a road trip with him, and we thought it would be funny to trick him -

The plan was that we would all read one book (Jared Diamond's Guns, germs and steel) and then "fall into" a conversation about civilization while on the trip- but the trick would be that we were all loaded up with advanced knowledge having read the book, and would be able to out-argue him) -

The result? 3/4 of us never read the book in the endstating that it was "too cerebral" - For my part I only got into a couple of chapters before time ran out, but it is on my official "must read" list (either that or Diamond's collapse book)
 

The Doogster

New Member
You really should. It's tragic to read how we're making all the same mistakes they've made in the past, and learning nothing from it.
I think even Diamond is in danger positive spinning in places. He sees grounds for optimism in the way the Chinese and the Tokugawa Shoguns implemented reforestation programs, but as they didn't actually cut their timber consumption it just amounts to exporting their ecological damage elsewhere. Diamond acknowledges this, but it seems to undermine his case for citing these examples as grounds for optimism.
There are sobering lessons for those who think that the First World can simply pull up the drawbridge and live in glorious isolation too.

I second what you've just said. It really is an important book. I'll quote a great paragraph from it:

Of course, though, people with long-term stakes don't always act wisely. Often they still prefer short-term goals, and often again they do things that are foolish in both the short term and the long term. That's what makes biography and history infinitely more complicated and less predictable than the courses of chemical reactions, and that's why this book doesn't preach environmental determinism. Leaders who don't just act passively, who have the courage to anticipate crises or to act early, and who make strong insightful decisions of top-down management really can make a huge difference to their societies. So can similarly courageous, active citizens practicing bottom-up management.

Jared Diamond for President!
 

sparkchaser

Administrator and Stuntman
Staff member
I haven't read Guns, Germs, and Steel or Collapse, but I'm hoping to get around to reading at least one of them this year. I thoroughly enjoyed The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee - and was hoping to give that one a re-read over the next month or so. :)

You read it or I will whomp your arse.


I am around 30% through Collapse. Amazing book.
 

angerball

Active Member
^Ooooh-la-la! I better get cracking then! :eek:

I've actually started The Rise and Fall of The Third Chimpanzee again, and it is such a mind-blowing, educating read. I can't believe how much information is covered, and I'm only up to Chapter 4. I'll definitely be reading his other books; if they're anything like this one, then I'll enjoy it very much!
 

sparkchaser

Administrator and Stuntman
Staff member
I am now officially over the halfway point in Collapse. Fascinating book.

Angerball, consider The Rise and Fall of The Third Chimpanzee added to The List. :D
 

Heteronym

New Member
I didn't really like the part where he talks about the intelligence of New Guineans. I thought that one of the purposes of the book is to establish that there are no major differences in ability among different races, and then he starts saying New Guineans are probably smarter than Europeans because of cultural geography.

I believe Diamond meant to say that New Guineans have to store a lot of information on survival that civilized (not only Western) people don't possess anymore, like how to grow crops, or hunt, or distinguish poisonous berries from safe ones, or make a fire in the jungle. Civilized people pat themselves on the back because of their inventions, but if one found himself alone in a thick rainforest, he'd hardly keep the composure of a Robinson Crusoe :D

Guns, Germs and Steel was a real eye-opener for me; I especially loved the chapter on language, being a linguistics fan; the idea that the alphabet has only been invented independently twice in history is remarkable.
 

silverseason

New Member
Jared Diamond has an article in the current issue of The New Yorker, also based on his New Guinea experiences. He described the revenge culture of a tribe in the absence of a government to avenge on behalf of the victim.
 

sparkchaser

Administrator and Stuntman
Staff member
Jared Diamond has an article in the current issue of The New Yorker, also based on his New Guinea experiences. He described the revenge culture of a tribe in the absence of a government to avenge on behalf of the victim.

DiscoveryHD had a show called "Living with the Kombai" and they spent an episode of two talking about this. Very interesting.
 

Champagne

New Member
I think Guns Germs and Steel gives a very good explanation of the difference between biological evolution and cultural evolution, and why societies sometimes find themselves caught between the two stools. The tensions between biological and cultural evolution seem to me to be a much more coherent explanation of societal problems than religious explanations based on sin and superstition.

I've been meaning to read Collapse for a long time - guess I'll have to pull it off the shelf and get started.
 

Champagne

New Member
Right, well, it's down from the shelf and on the "to read this side of Doomsday" pile. I had a quick scan through it, and it actually looks more interesting than GG&S (which I've just realised I still have a couple of chapters to read. Arg). I just bought two Brian Fagan books about climate change for my husband, but have also had a look through them, and it seems as though The Great Warming covers some of the same territory as Collapse.

We're going on vacation in a couple of weeks' time, so I guess I know what reading material will be coming along with us...:)
 
I'll quote ...from it:

Of course, though, people with long-term stakes don't always act wisely. Often they still prefer short-term goals, and often again they do things that are foolish in both the short term and the long term.

For anyone who's interested in reading why this is, you could do worse than read Luxury Fever by Robert Frank.
Frank is Professor of Economics at Cornell, but more importantly, he's an economist who's taken the trouble to do his psychology homework, and understands why the orthodox economics of Adam Smith don't work.

In short (very short), Smith's economics assume that people are motivated by absolute wealth, and that what's good for the individual is neccessarily good for society. Neither of these is the case. In particular, people are motivated by relative wealth: the Smiths are only happy when they have more than the Joneses, and the Joneses are only happy when they have more than the Smiths. Hence they're both locked into an environment-wrecking competition to consume more and more, when no amount of wealth can ever make them both happy at the same time. A zero sum game.

Consumption whose value is measured relative to others is termed conspicuous, whereas that whose value is absolute is inconspicuous.
Eg:
Conspicuous: Houses, Cars, etc.
Inconspicuous: Leisure time, Pensions, Clean environment etc.

Conspicuous consumption always trumps inconspicuous because it leads to higher personal status, even though it lowers the welfare of society as a whole (The Prisoner's Dilemma). This is no trivial matter, it's been shown that personal status affects both morbidity and mortality! What's needed is a policy to reduce conspicuous consumption across the board for all society. Frank proposes one.

A psychologist called Daniel Kahneman has done much work on this, and won the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics for it. Nassim Taleb covers a fair bit of similar ground in Fooled by Randomness, there's also relevant snippets in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, and related stuff in Why Therapy Doesn't Work by David Smail.

Finally, don't be put off Frank by chapter two! It's a litany of examples of prices of luxury goods. A couple of paragraphs would have sufficed, but he goes on and on! The rest of the book is NOT the same though, so if your eyes glaze over just skip to chapter three, you won't miss anything!
 

speedmaster

New Member
I thought a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of non-fiction deserved it's own thread and hopefully my search was correct when it said there isn't currently one. Diamond has also written a few other books including 2 I plan on reading if I enjoy Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Third Chimpanzee and Collapse. I'm about 70 pages into Guns, Germs, and Steel. So far it's not too dry considering the content.

Thanks for posting this. I heard about the book and put it in my queue. My one (significant) reservation is that I think I saw it was endorsed by Paul Ehrlich.
 

Leeny

New Member
Does anyone remember reading about where the first cities were located? I have to do an assignment and I just finished the book and I don't remember reading about this at all.
 

sparkchaser

Administrator and Stuntman
Staff member
Mesopotamia?

I'd look it up but my copy was one of the victims of the move from Kansas City to Lynchburg. :sad:
 

Leeny

New Member
yeah, I know the answer but I don't know where on earth in the book to look it up! I re-read the part on tribes becoming chiefdoms, but that was mainly about Africa and New Guinea. The whole question that I have to answer is: Why did cities first evolve in the Middle East? And the other question that I'm having trouble with is: Why are the tropics now the capital of global poverty? I think the answer is because they don't have as many crops that they can grow and export:confused: but I don't remember reading about that either.
 

joderu95

New Member
yeah, I know the answer but I don't know where on earth in the book to look it up! I re-read the part on tribes becoming chiefdoms, but that was mainly about Africa and New Guinea. The whole question that I have to answer is: Why did cities first evolve in the Middle East? And the other question that I'm having trouble with is: Why are the tropics now the capital of global poverty? I think the answer is because they don't have as many crops that they can grow and export:confused: but I don't remember reading about that either.

pg. 279 or so.

I'm going to help you with your other question because I loved the book but darn you, pay attention next time!

Look into food production, domestication of animals and number of seed varieties. p. 99

As for the tropics being the capital of global poverty......Ah-own-know.
 

sparkchaser

Administrator and Stuntman
Staff member
Why are the tropics now the capital of global poverty? I think the answer is because they don't have as many crops that they can grow and export:confused: but I don't remember reading about that either.

I don't remember but I'd say that Collapse touches on that a bit.
 
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