I was aware of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ for a long time before reading it. I hadn’t read it because I was very much aware of the criticism of it that it was “environmental determinism”. Namely that Diamond explained every facet of human development in terms of having an environmental cause.
It’s not that the environment isn’t important to the development of human societies but it is more interesting and worthwhile if the explanations the author offers include other aspects. Even if it is just to explain why these are less important.
Unfortunately, as I was reading the book this criticism seemed to me to be more and more accurate. Not only do I find being told that everything that happened to every human society everywhere was entirely due to structural causes depressing but the repetitive nature of the way Diamond’s argument is presented is dull and for me ultimately unconvincing.
Environmental/structural causes were often very important perhaps even the most important but other causes must have played a role as well. At one point Diamond mentions that religious beliefs played a part in the development of agriculture. I could have done with this idea being explored. Instead it was dropped like a rock.
So whilst I really enjoyed the first quarter of the book when Diamond’s argument was somewhat fresh I quickly became bored. Instead of being enjoyable reading it became more of a chore.
As a positive I did find reading about how early humans would have domesticated certain crops and animals interesting. This tended to come in the first third to quarter of the book however.
Overall, I could not recommend this book to the casual reader who wants to learn about the origins of the development of human society. Reading it is the equivalent of listening to some politician make the same point over and over again. The book does initially raise some interesting issues regarding the development of human civilization and why ‘West’ colonized civilizations in the Americas and elsewhere.
These are questions however that can be found examined more interestingly at other sources i.e. elsewhere online. Especially since Diamond’s arguments are so well known that almost anyone discussing them online is likely to bring him up.
I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.