Guns, Germs and Steel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jan 16 11:43:55 MST 2001

Sebastian wrote:
>   Listers interested in the discussion around Diamond's book may want to
>know that Issue 6 of the journal Historical Materialism carries a fifty
>page review of the book by Alan Carling and Paul Nolan which assess the
>compatibility between the book's theses and recent work on transitions
>between modes of production in the Marxist tradition.

Another review of interest is by Jim Devine, an economics professor and
frequent contributor to PEN-L. Here is the URL of the review, followed by
the opening paragraphs.

I've finally finished with a very long (425 pages) but extremely
interesting, well-written, and informative book of archaeology and
anthropology, Jared Diamond's GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL (Norton, 1997). The
book argues for a reasonable theory about why the occupants of Eurasia have
conquered the other continents (especially the New World) during the last
500+ years rather than being conquered by the rest of the world. In the
end, we of Eurasian extraction were lucky, having the right kind of
geography, access to wild plants and animals that could be domesticated,
plus a relatively small number of ecological or geographical barriers which
allowed diffusion through trade, migration, or conquest. This allowed us to
grow in population, grow geographically, and take over almost all of the
world. BTW, Brad DeLong has a good review of the book at As he
notes, the book is "truly a work of complete of total genius." He's at
least a genius at synthesizing others' research. But not being a
professional archeologists or anthropologist, I don't know how original
this book is. (I've heard rumblings that say the book "isn't new," though
that may be a protective response to a field being invaded by a

One thing that is clear from the beginning is that Diamond, despite his
origins and his residence (here in L.A.), makes a big effort to avoid
Eurocentrism. In a strange way, he comes off "New Guinea" centric instead,
even asserting that he thinks the residents of the New Guinea highlands are
superior to us White Americans. He doesn't see the Eurasian conquest as a
good thing, though he does see it as one example of a more general
phenomenon that includes the Austronesian conquest of much of Southeast
Asia, the Bantu conquest of most of sub-Saharan Africa, and the Maori
conquest of the Morioris in the Chatham Islands in 1835.

Louis Proyect
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