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Another good read that says something similar.

Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393973867

And the documentary based on the book:


It might be a good read but at best its pop science at worst complete bunk (close to the latter). There was a book about this topic written by an actual historian much earlier: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_Imperialism_(book) and where Diamond tried to answer very broad questions and his broad answers break down in detail, Crosby makes similar points but approaches as a historian, limits his arguments and actually practices proper scholarship.

Out of curiosity, can you explain, or point to some writing about why you think the theories in the book are close to "complete bunk"?


There are also a ton of good critiques on /r/history, /r/askhistorians, and /r/anthropology. I can't remember which I've read. Ones like this are typical:


That first link entirely ignores that IQ tests have been shown to be culturally dependent. Likewise for the aptitude tests he conflates them with.

Pretty sure if you wrote an IQ test where your standard population was a group of people living in a harsh jungle environment, urbanite Westerners would come off thick as pigshit.

Or an aptitude test for "How good are you at tracking cassowaries without being disembowelled by them".

I've read good dissections of what's wrong with Diamond's work, that link is not one of them.

I remember being struck by his anecdotes of Papua New Guineans seeming just as smart as anyone else as supposed evidence of... What exactly?

I don't think Neil Diamond is wrong but it's kind of baby's first reading on the differences between groups in the world.

I think CGP Grey does a great job at communicating the actual meat of Guns, Germs, and Steel here https://youtu.be/JEYh5WACqEk

If you know a little bit about history involving dates and such, Diamond makes some hilarious boners. Like, getting the actual dates when plague hit the Indians wrong in a way that makes his theory kind of fall to shreds.

Anthropologists don't think much of him either.

Of course any historical theory of everything based on one factor is going to look silly if you read another. Most modern people haven't read Spengler or Brooks Adams or whatever the popular socialist books were in the 30s which attempt to explain everything.

History, of course, is path dependent, and the correct perception is probably something like "stuff is like this by accident."

One of the more interesting theories in that book is that Europe and Asia were technologically so far ahead of Africa and the North Americas was because Europe and Asia are lined up "horizontally" which allowed for easier migration by nomadic tribes in prehistoric times, thus allowing for faster spread of ideas like writing, farming, domestication of animals, etc.

I'm not sold on the hypothesis that Europe and Asia were way ahead technologically, because honestly (mostly Europeans) did all they could to eliminate any culture indigenous cultures in the Americans and Africa, ignored them and devalued them completely. And definitely didn't make any attempts to understand or document what was going on before they got there. So likely lots of informaiton got lost along the way.

Yes, proximity helps with cross pollination - but there are hundreds of distinct ethnic groups in the Americans and Africa that also traveling, cross-pollinated and shared. History decided to group them together and call these all one big group.

Similar story here in Australia. I'm currently reading "Dark Emu" [0], which shows how Indigenous Australians, always claimed to be hunter-gatherers with only primitive societies, actually were agriculturists... using the early explorer's own journals.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21401526-dark-emu

That book is central to this article, which even includes a photo of its cover.

AFAICT that video on youtube is infringing. But you can watch it on Amazon Prime Video (and they also have it available on DVD -- you have to pay a premium for the convenience of DVD, though: 144 USD).

And just when I read your reply and I was about to edit it to remove the link, I passed the two hour edit window.....

Guns, Germs, and Steel is essentially pop science by a guy with next to no expertise in many of the areas he bases his theories on like geography.

Germs - Ignores the fact that Europeans were devastated by things like Malaria that many Africans have moderate immunity to thanks to the sickle cell trait

Domesticated animals - Ignores that Europeans have actually used Zebras as work animals and had to domesticate cows from Aurrochs and dogs from wolves

The whole thing is basically Diamond starting off with a conclusion and finding a theory to fit in

I tried to read Guns, Germs and Steel several years ago, as it was popular, and required by a collage class I was taking. I finished maybe a third of the book before it became clear the author had lost the plot entirely, and all my independent reading on the subject seemed to indicate the author was at best ambitious with his conclusions; At worst, actively spreading misinformation.

The best theory out there is the 'Cold Winters' theory. But it leads to politically incorrect conclusions, so is not widespread.

The emergence of human sociability defies modern genetic models. Nonetheless, out of all the irreparably flawed assumptions in anthropology, one of the least flawed is the premise that intelligence and sociability probably had a complex, interconnected evolution.

Given that not only can we not explain our sociability, but that it's emergence seems nearly impossible according to our understanding of genetic natural selection, then opining on the dominant factors that drive modern intelligence, let alone drove our intelligence hundreds of thousands of years ago, is a hopeless endeavor.

Anyone providing answers to such higher-order questions could only be correct by accident. We have no way of assessing the validity!

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