David wen avatar
David Wen
Entrepreneur, software developer, management consultant. He once biked 200km for cancer research.
Guns germs and steel
Guns, Germs, and Steel

Reviewed by David Wen

As I read this, I kept thinking, "why was this not required reading in school?" Diamond gives a comprehensive answer to the question: why are certain societies more advanced than others, if genetically, we are 99.9% the same?

It reminded me of my calculus teacher in high school, Mr. MacIntosh, who would always provide proofs for each formula he gave us. That way, we knew the origins of why things are the way they are. I think those fundamentals were lacking in my other social studies. Incidentally, here's the proof for the famous Pythagorean Theorem, which I was just given as fact, and now that I know it, my mind has been blown. Just like how this book blew my mind.

At the core of it all, Diamond argues that environmental factors contributed to the differences in societal advancement. It is the reason why Europeans conquered the world, and not the other way around. Much of this starts way before what we would consider "history" - Diamond pegs the relevant timeframe at 13,000 years ago, when all human societies were roughly equally advanced. The first step in the transformation is why certain regions of the world were more suitable for farming versus hunting-gathering. And in a way, that was the single most important step. Since once a society has the advantage of agriculture, they can then specialize in skills and organize politically. And once it can do that, it can innovate and attack, giving rise to the first and the last words of the book title.

Additionally, people who live in an area where animals can be domesticated (not an easy thing - apparently there are only 14 such animals) have the advantage of being able to use those animals for transport, farming, food, and developing and becoming immune to diseases. The latter is important not only as the second word in the book title, but because 95% of the "conquering" of the new world came about due to the locals simply dying from diseases like smallpox.

This was a highly informative book that teaches basic fundamentals of human evolution alongside fascinating tidbits such as why peapods used to explode and how Africa became black. More importantly, this book expels any notion that one race is "better" than another. I believe that getting on the same page of this proof provides a necessary foundation for any discussion of humanity going forward.

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David wen avatar
David Wen
Entrepreneur, software developer, management consultant. He once rented an apartment for $67 a month, in Canada.