Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is one of these books I’d been sort of meaning to read for years, but it took getting it as an Xmas present to actually kick-start the process.
The book basically looks at why societies developed the way they did, why Europeans were the ones who went off colonizing and killing people all over the world instead of the Inca or Aborigines or whoever. Reading the book made me never ever want to play one of those Sid Meier games (like Civilization) ever again just because of the simplifications inherent in that kind of “progress” oriented game. If I were more industrious I’d beak the computer game through a GGS lens. It’d be a good way of going through the major points he’s trying to get across.
The basic idea is that environmental and ecological determinants are the root causes for most of the way human history has played out (in the broad scale). It’s a thought provoking read. I would have liked more China-centric information because it’s the history I’m most familiar with, but he doesn’t do a lot with China until the language section. And there’s some good stuff in the epilogue which I would like to discuss with Chinese people to see if it’s just a clever-looking idea from the outside or if it might carry some self-reflexive water too.
My biggest complaint was something endemic to this kind of material analysis; there’s no room for people being good. As in not going and killing a whole bunch of folk because widescale murder isn’t a good moral choice. The only reason people don’t go in and assimilate/enslave/murder societies in this book (exaggeration ahead) is because of malaria. If it weren’t for malaria killing off potential invaders we’d be all monocultured up. No one would ever decide to leave people alone just for the hell of it. In the 2003 epilogue he talks about applying this book to business culture and how efficiency is the ultimate goal and it made me nauseous. I get that this is part of the “ultimate” instead of “proximate” causes he’s trying to get down to and that this is the base of science and stuff, but the future of this way of thinking is the basis for all that dystopian SF in the world. Or maybe that’s just me.