Study Guide

Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Overall, most critics have praised Guns, Germs, and Steel. Some scientists disagree with Diamond’s conclusions, but most find Diamond’s research interesting and compelling. “Although it has its faults, this is still a very important book,” wrote Brian Ferguson for the American Anthropologist. “For anyone who teaches an introductory anthropology course that deals with the rise of civilizations, this is essential reading.” Critics such as Ferguson were most impressed with the work that Diamond put into this book, traveling around the world, gathering information, and then shaking out all but the necessary details. “The beauty of this work,” wrote Gregory H. Nobles for Environmental History, “is its striking breadth and depth, its ability to forge a host of explanatory factors together into an intellectually coherent, generally compelling, and always engaging argument.” Diamond’s task was monumental, one that only a dedicated scientist and an author with a strong, personal voice could accomplish.

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) helped sponsor the production of a television program based on Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. On the PBS website, Microsoft founder Bill Gates says, “Guns, Germs, and Steel lays a foundation for understanding human history, which makes it fascinating in its own right. Because it brilliantly describes how chance advantages can lead to early success in a highly competitive environment, it also offers useful lessons for the business world and for people interested in why technologies succeed.” The PBS production first aired in July 2005.

Not everyone, however, has praised the book, as Robert P. Clark, writing for the Journal of World History, has pointed out. “This book will not appeal to all readers, particularly if they are put off by the materialist approach to history. Personally, I find such an approach quite illuminating, principally because it reveals in such detail exactly how the natural world (in this case, the biosphere) places limits on the range of choices we confront.”