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

botully

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
3,448
Amelia, Virginia, USA
I don’t think Diamond overemphasizes germs, I think he overemphasizes steel, and to a lesser extent guns. His theory about how the old world grew those diseases may be questioned, but the devastating effect on natives is well attested in primary sources and archaeology. The guns and steel helped conquer, but disease allowed Europeans to replace the natives, who likely lost 80% of their populations. This was not true elsewhere, where natives already had similar resistance, or the tropics, where disease helped keep Europeans at bay.
Steel is superior to anything the natives had, but that in itself wasn’t decisive. Rather the fact that steel tools made European presence irresistible to natives was decisive. Even when natives could have wiped out nascent colonies, they didn’t. They wanted access to guns and steel, and fought wars amongst themselves for control of that access.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,655
I don’t think Diamond overemphasizes germs, I think he overemphasizes steel, and to a lesser extent guns. His theory about how the old world grew those diseases may be questioned, but the devastating effect on natives is well attested in primary sources and archaeology. The guns and steel helped conquer, but disease allowed Europeans to replace the natives, who likely lost 80% of their populations. This was not true elsewhere, where natives already had similar resistance, or the tropics, where disease helped keep Europeans at bay.

Steel is superior to anything the natives had, but that in itself wasn’t decisive. Rather the fact that steel tools made European presence irresistible to natives was decisive. Even when natives could have wiped out nascent colonies, they didn’t. They wanted access to guns and steel, and fought wars amongst themselves for control of that access.
I think steel and guns are simply the way Diamond symbolized the tehnological advantages the Europeans had. Little things like logistics - Europeanns could keep armies in the field for many months, but Native American lacked, for example, the ability to sustain a siege for months. Finances, like to borrow money to build the ships and pay for the cannons and armies that allowed for conquest to occur in the first place.

The entire concept of field artillery, dating back to Roman ballistas, was lacking in the New World - the New World wasn't even where the Old World was 2000 years earlier. Explaining how the ability to borrow money long term and have iron shod horses and mules gave a military advantage is a complex and yawn producong explanation, so Diamond symbolizes all that with an easy to understand Guns and Steel . When he talks about guns, he is not just talking about guns, but the thousands of years of military technology behind guns.
 

Fantasus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2012
2,381
Northern part of European lowland
While only some historians tend to have political bias against the thinking behind Diamonds way to see things I ask myself if there could be something that alienate them in a more "prfessional" way. In short they ("we") could see it as uncomfortable that explanations are seen outside history itself. Historians after all don' t necessarily devote themselves to entirely different fields. How many historians have much interest or knowledge in such fields as geography, climate, biology etcetera?
 

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