A Grand Notion: Guns, Germs, and Steel


Dr. Jared Diamond is a quiet-spoken man with ideas that have thundered around the world.

Remember that list I made of the most 10 influential books I’ve read? Well, I got it wrong. This book should have held the first, and last, place on that list.

I read Guns, Germs, and Steel when it first came out in 1999. I remember while reading it, nodding my head over and over, thinking, yes, that makes perfect sense! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referenced this book or told someone I’m arguing with, “Well, you’ve read Guns, Germs, and Steel, haven’t you?” by way of explaining some seemingly inexplicable human behavior.

Mr. Diamond was asked a simple question: Why do white people have so much stuff? (Paraphrased, of course, but that’s not too far off the mark.) The question was asked by a New Guinea native who, along with their brethren, subsequently became the focus of Mr. Diamond’s research in evolutionary biology.

Though his years of research didn’t primarily deal with that question, he never forgot it.

Guns, Germs, and Steel is his answer to that question. With remarkably depth and fairness, Mr. Diamond reveals the bio-geographic patterns that shaped our histories and even our present situations, revealing the indifferent forces that made the African continent such a wild place and how a hypothetical alien might be able to predict with startling clarity where the birth of written language would emerge. Mr. Diamond reviews countless of biology and ecology papers, summarizing them in a concise theory (guns, germs, and steel) in easy to grasp language. No doubt, this book will change the way you view the world.

There is some criticism of his work, for sure, as there should be, but his ideas (not really all that new) have stood years of scrutiny and if you want to understand why some societies hold reign over others, look no further than the basic resources available to them.

As far-reaching as Ms. Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring, Mr. Diamond’s book has changed the way scholars, and even politicians, think. I know it changed me.

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8 thoughts on “A Grand Notion: Guns, Germs, and Steel

  1. I need to read this, and I will.

    I was utterly taken with his other book Collapse: How Complex Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. As an archaeologist in training it utterly changed my view on how I perceive the end of civilisations and how we often have a hand in our own demise. I didn’t agree with every premise he puts forward in that book, but enough to make you think again.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Made the choice of listening to the book rather than reading it. Thoroughly enjoyed the presentation but, evidently, listening vice reading didn’t make as big an impression on me. Probably have to buy a copy to read.

    1. It might be the timing of when you read it. I read it when I was much younger, so it made a big impression on me. Oh! I’m glad you read it.

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