What are some positive and negative responses to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In addition to its overwhelmingly positive public reception, and commercial success, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel received wide praise from scientists and historians. Generally, reviewers observed that Diamond tackled a very broad subject without either watering down his argument or burying readers in details. He also brought scientific arguments against the primacy of race or cultural attributes to a broad reading public. Many reviewers were convinced by his account of the interactions between people and the environment, and particularly by his illustration of the limits nature places on people.

The book met with some criticisms, however, mostly centering on Diamond's insistence that environmental factors were at the heart of most human development, including cultural development. To some readers, especially historians and anthropologists, this approach seems reductionist, eliminating contingencies from human history. As one reviewer pointed out, those who were "put off by the materialist view of history" tended to take issue with some aspects of Diamond's argument. Historians tend to emphasize human agency, and in Diamond's view, it is the environment where agency ultimately lies.