Review of Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel"

Robert165

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,265
North Georgia
Because it is a little more complicated. But the book is still ok.
Ok, I'm quite sure that for a real historian they would get annoyed by the innauraices. Like, I am a member of the 12 steps. But I go to NA, Narcotics Anonymous, not AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. For anyone outside of the 12 step organizations the 2 groups are in all practical purposed the same.

But if I saw in a movie that an NA person was carrying the AA textbook on the dash of their truck, I would probably say, they need to get the right book in that shot!!!
 
Apr 2018
241
USA
But, ummmm, in the end the European powers did defeat all the Native American powers so......... ???
Oh, ok, well actually that makes perfect sense. But how does that invalidate the basic premise of GG&S?

So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
 

Robert165

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,265
North Georgia
So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.
Ok, that makes perfect sense actually.

But what about his claim that Europeans were not "superior" because they had better technology, they were simply lucky enough to have the raw resources to develop that technology?

Because to me that is the most important Idea in the book.

Do most scholars/historians agree with that part??


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.
OK, I am aware that is a topic that has a lot of debate attached to it.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
I will take a look at that one too. I did eventually read the whole first article you showed me but not the whole comment section there on reddit.
 

Robert165

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,265
North Georgia
So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
Ok, I read it, but his view of environmental determinism seems, well, I am even more confused about that part of GG&S than I was before.
 
Jan 2010
4,010
Atlanta, Georgia USA
So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
Good review. Thanks
 
Nov 2017
789
Commune
So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
I don't know how grateful I can be to you. Thanks for pointing out that I'm not a lone lunatic for viciously hating and opposing Jared Diamond.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,662
So it was was an extremely slow and difficult process which took centuries overall and typically required way more than a small band of adventurers. Which kinda brings into question how big of a role "guns" and "steel" actually played in the outcome in the first place.


Even the "Germs" part of the title has been heavily called into question by newer research, particularly the "virgin soil" hypothesis and whether or not the most deadly diseases like smallpox even came from domesticated animals in the first place.


Here's a shorter post by CommodoreCoCo which tries to broadly sum up why historians and anthropologists dislike GG&S: https://np.reddit.com/r/AskHistoria..._rebuttalalternative_to_the_one_that/dk6htc0/
If the sample of AskHistorians is anything to go by, I will make sure to avoid the site in the future. He says "historians" and "anthropologist" dislike Guns Germs and Steels, without naming any. He seems to i ply that all historians ans anthropologist disagree witn Diamond, which is simply not the case. He is clearly projecting his personal views as if they are the views of all, making him a bad historian at best.

While the nativre allies of Cortes did play a vital role, they did not best tne Aztecs on tneir own, and rhey didn't even try to "best" the Aztecs before the Spanish arrived. Nor did native allies play a major role in defeating the Incas, tne Spanish did that mostly on their own.

Further, while some may have question tne inpact of germs, others have gone the opposite direction. Some historians assert the population of Nortn American was much higher than previously assumed, that Old World germs wiped out native populations even before the first European settlers arrived in tne area. You can here accounts of native settlements of early explorers that were apparently gone by the time the settlers arrived in the area later. Some historians propose that the reason the Mound Builders vanished in tne 16th century was that they fell victim to Old World diseases - the Mound Builders were present at the time of the early Spanish explorers, but were gone by tne time the later English explorers arrived, for example.

At other times, he said complete nonsense. He says that wheels are useless in mounatinous areas, but the New World is not completely mountainous as he seems to assume. The natives of the New World (Mexicans, etc.) used wheeled vehicles after the Spanish arrived and brought draught animals (ox, donkeys, horses) to haul them - it was the lack of draught animals, not mountains that caused the peoples of the New World to avoid the use of the wheel. And what this historian also doesn't seem to understand that the wheel has a lot more applicatios tnan just transportation. Cranes, pulleys, watermills, windmills, all use the principle of the wheel, and all can be used in a mountainous area.

Spain was just one country, and a not particularly heavily populated ome at that. In tne scheme of things, their conquest was not particularly slow, given the vast areas they had to cover, and tneir numbers were not particularlh great. The Spanish had far more troops fighting to retain tneir possesions in the Netherlands than they spent in tne New World. Contrary to the image these so called historians try to paint, tne Spanish did not conquer the New World with vast armies. Given tne vast amount of territory they had to cover, a couple centuries is actually pretty quick - by 1700's, they had managed to conquer the majority of Soutn America.

I doubt tne Spanish ever had to muster an army as large as 20,000 to defeat tne natives in any one battle, a sign of how weak the natives were.. The fact is that the Spanish did not have to fignt battles anywhere near as large as those tney fought in Europe to defeat the Native Americans.

And while the Spanish did use local natives to adnminster tneir empire, that was only at first, and within a generation they had completely replaced tne Incan and Aztec administrations. While tne image ruling througn loca. rulers might be applicable to other European colonies, such as India, it was not true for the most part for tne American colonies. Most of tne colonies of tne Americas were adnministered through European officials, not local natives.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,662
PS. It is no secret that many in the academic fields have strong political bias, and anthropology and history are among them.


Beginning in the 1960s, a movement developed in academia with the aim of transforming scholarly pursuits into instruments of social change. It was motivated by intellectually fashionable ideas, such as Marxism and feminism, and by a trendy antipathy towards Western Civilization in general. Eventually it overwhelmed the humanities and deeply affected the social sciences.

The impact of the movement on my field, anthropology, was varied, since anthropology, with its four sub-disciplines, spans the range of scholarly activity from the physical sciences through the social sciences to the humanities. Three of those sub-disciplines (archeology, physical anthropology, and linguistic anthropology) have remained mostly unscathed by the efforts to transform anthropology into another politically correct university outpost.

But the largest of the four, sociocultural anthropology (the study of social and cultural variation around the world), has been greatly distorted. It has been redefined from a science to an instrument of political ideology.....
.
.

One element in politicized anthropology is the repudiation of the West’s colonial past. Western expansion, as seen from this perspective, was not a phase in history, similar in many respects to the phenomenon of cyclical empires that goes back to the beginning of civilization, but rather an abiding sin for which activist anthropologists have vowed to make amends........

One of them is UC Berkeley professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who has often called for the redefinition of anthropology from an academic discipline to what she calls “forensic” anthropology. (See, e.g. her essay “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology” in the June 1995 issue of Current Anthropology.) What she means by that is that anthropology should move from objective scientific analysis to activism, with a focus on the “crimes” committed by earlier anthropologists.

In her view, anthropologists should stop trying to be objective observers of reality and instead become “witnesses” who “name the wrongs” that have been done to the peoples who have been studied. .... https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2016/02/turning-anthropology-from-science-into-political-activism/
People holding such an attitude lack objectivity, and make very poor scholars and scientist. They will naturally hate anything Jared Diamond writes, since he does not condemn the actions of Europeans in strong enough terms, and his arguments run counter to the political correctness they are trying to promote. In addition, Diamond is a success, with books people actually want to read, while their political ideologues are ignored by most readers. Envy, as much as anything else, prompts their criticism of Diamond.

The argument that they and other critics of Diamond make that the peoples of the Americas were not really behind the peoples of the Old World just won't fly. Being anthropologist, they are woeful ignorant of technology.

1. The steel swords and other weapons were more advanced that any of the bronze weapons that the Native Americans possessed. Even the obsidian knives are not as effective.

While the obsidian blades are sharp, they are limited to just cutting, not thrusting and cutting like steel swords. Nor could the obsidian and stone blades be shaped any way one desired, you are limited on the shape, while steel swords could be shaped as desired for their effectiveness. And it is difficult to sharpen stone blades if the edge becomes dulled or damaged.

The Native American weapons lacked the power of a steel crossbow, or a gun. And the Native Americans hand nothing to compare with a cannon or other long range weapons. While the advantages of technology may not be as great as some made out, they are advantages nonetheless, and even a slight advantage could be the margin of victory, even if they don't automatically guarantee victory.


2. In the non military field, the technological advantage of the Europeans was far greater. Clear superiority in naval technology meant that the Europeans could ship supplies and resources in larger amounts over greater distances. The Americas lacked anything relating to complex machines, like mechanical clocks, or watermills, or windmills. While not an advantage in battle itself, they help generate greater resources and make weapons like steel swords more available.
 
Apr 2018
241
USA
@Bart Dale


Well, I suppose it's not worth trying to argue if you're just going to assume that any educated person who disagrees with you is part of some grand liberal conspiracy.


From my experience most people who take history seriously enough to pursue it as a degree or a profession absolutely are interested in the facts above all else and will just as readily tear into any "noble savage" stereotypes or Marxist interpretations which try to fit all of history into one working class vs bourgeois paradigm. If you don't want to believe that then I don't know what to tell you.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,662
@Bart Dale


Well, I suppose it's not worth trying to argue if you're just going to assume that any educated person who disagrees with you is part of some grand liberal conspiracy.


From my experience most people who take history seriously enough to pursue it as a degree or a profession absolutely are interested in the facts above all else and will just as readily tear into any "noble savage" stereotypes or Marxist interpretations which try to fit all of history into one working class vs bourgeois paradigm. If you don't want to believe that then I don't know what to tell you.
Well if you are going to criticize without actually making an argument, and claim historians are all totally objective without any bias, then you are right, there isn't any point discussing anything with you. Claiming you opponent is too unreasonable so you donqt have to bother make counter arguments is a cop out, and if you want to go that route, fine,

Wnen you invoke all the historians dislike Diamond as one one of your arguments, then it is legitimate to analyze the basis and motives of those histirians. The criticism I provided weren't my own, they were the views of others. If you think they are invalid, you are free to challenge them and refute them, My personal experience with some history professors and reading up on some historians has led me not to share your optimistic view that all historians are totally unbiased and objective as you insist. It is not that these historians criticize Diamond - Diamond does make simplistic arguments, and is sloppy in a lot of his work, It is the almost rapid hatred of Diamond that make me examine their motives, a dislike greater than even what they display to someone like Gavin Menzies. When historians and anthropologist display such rapid hatred, instead of mere scholarly disagreement, then it becomes right and just to look into their motives.

Yes, Diamond simplies a very complex situation, and he over emphasis on a few items, such as germs, at the expensive of other factors. But Diamond was writing to the general public, not scholars, and simplifying complex situations at the price of some accuracy is probably inevitable.

(I remember reading about historians Charles and Mary Beard, who were quite influential at one time, until it was shown that the aruguments were based on factually incorredt data, and complete misinterpretation, and while during the Civil Rignts era in thd 1950's they were one of the most influential historians, today they have been completely discredited. When I examine Charles and Mary Beard, I can't help but reach tne conclusion that it was their leftist political views that led to their flawed research, bad facts, and invalid conclusions, Some still say positive things about the Beard's because they like what they said, even though they know Charles and Mary Beard's research was greatly deficient.)
 
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