The book in question is insightful, thought-provoking and controversial. One of the positive aspects of the book is its elaborateness. Having taken up a challenging thesis, the author goes about proving it with a rigorous scholarly approach. But as with all theses there are problems of omission and commission.
The book presents an interesting view on the European dominance of global politics in modern history. Questioning any inherent genetic superiority or innate industriousness of the European race, Diamond states that it was conditions of favorable geography and climate that accounts for this dominance. The vast East-West orientation of the Eurasian landmass offered a degree of uniformity of climate along the same latitudes. This allowed exchange of applicable agricultural technology across various parts of the continent. Eurasia also had the good fortune of tameable animals which they could employ in agricultural production and also for animal farming. Though various other parts of the world are equally rich in biodiversity, almost none of the species could be domesticated. This would prove to be a major factor for rapid technological and cultural progress of European civilization when compared to the rest of the world. This fortuitous advantage fostered a conducive environment for development of military capability (Guns). The biological advantage of a robust immune system among Europeans meant that they could thwart off deadly diseases that several indigenous populations across the world could not (Germs). The evolution of large bureaucracies and power hierarchies (Steel) in European societies gave them better organizational strength. This proved to be another key advantage over the primitive and small social structures outside Europe.
The trio of pivotal advantages in the form of Guns, Germs and Steel are valid observations indeed. But the claim that chance environmental conditions have led to these critical advantages is quite radical. One of the drawbacks of this book is how it selectively presents facts favorable to the thesis while ignoring contrarian facts. For example, just as the vast East-West latitudinal expanse of the European continent allowed transfer of agricultural methods across this stretch, there are similar successful examples of North-South transfer evident in the American continent. Likewise, Diamond underestimates the nutritional value of several crops grown outside Eurasia. In a similar vein, as some critics have pointed out, the military capability between British colonialists and their subjects is not unmatchable. So, based on these contrarian evidences, it is fair to claim that Diamond’s thesis is not as strong as he makes it to be. The other criticism of the work is its perceived Euro-centricism. That is, by offering a cool, rational and scientific explanation for the phenomenon of imperialism, the author is implicitly justifying it. Diamond himself acknowledges this problem in his preface and clarifies that accounting for the causes does not justify the consequences.
Hence, all things considered, I personally don’t consider the book wholly meritorious. To its credit there is an interesting thesis and out-of-the-box thinking on part of the author. There are also numerous references to historical, cultural and geographical facts which I found very useful. I also appreciate the fact that Jared Diamond openly dispels suspicions of Euro-centricism in the work. But its biggest drawback is its implicit rationalization of the processes behind imperialism, despite the authors claims to innocence. Moreover, in my opinion, though the thesis is interesting, it holds no relevance whatsoever in the era of post-colonialism and postmodernism.
Diamond, J. (March 1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03891-2.