Jared 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 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.
Guns, Germs, and Steel is his answer to a question proffered by his New Guinean friend, Yali: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo [steel axes, umbrellas, matches, soft drinks, etc.- the material stuff of civilization], but we black people had little cargo of our own?" It is an obvious and important question, and one to which professional historians, including myself, tend to react as if we'd discovered a coral snake in the shower...we shy away from Yali's question because the easiest answer is one that many bray and bray about and others would rather die than utter. Race...
Jared Diamond had done us all a great favor by supplying a rock-solid alternative to the racist answer...
...This is a wonderfully interesting book, especially for historians of the usual liberal arts background, who will find the final chapter, "The Future of Hisotry as a Science," alone worth the price of admission. In it, Diamond argues that students of humanity- while they cannot be as precise as physicists and chemists with their laboratory experiments, nor can they run history over again to see if this change can produce that result- have examples and "natural experiments" with which they can fashion informative comparisons.
Why did Christendom enthusiastically and permanently adopt the wheel, the key element in most machinery, while the Islamic societies largely discarded it? What happened when syphilis first appeared, as compared to what is happening today with the appearance of AIDS? What is happening to society in the highlands of Diamond's home-away-from-home, Paupa New Guinea, where people have hurtled from the technology of the stone ax to that of the computer within a lifetime? Diamond's lesson is this: Think big like our astronomers, who begin their training not by trying to understand the nervous gyrations of the members of the asteroid belt but the simple and stately movements of the major planets over the years, decades and centuries. Think big. "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is a provocative start. -- Alfred W. Crosby, Los Angeles Times 3/9/97