Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

I finished reading Jared Diamond's godawful book, Guns, Germs and Steel, a couple of days ago. In fact, I have up before the last 100 pages or so. I just could not take it anymore. So I might actually have missed out on something vital that he says towards the end. If that is the case, please correct me.

Let me say at the outset that I'm in no position to challenge his scholarship, though others have done so. I don't even have much of a problem with his central thesis - that environment has a big role to play in human history. It is rather the way he says it that bugs me.

I think the book is nauseatingly Eurocentric. Large parts of the analyses are about the European destruction of native American civilizations and his personal experiences in New Guinea. I was very puzzled by his complete neglect of India and China where one-third of the world's population now resides. He did devote one whole chapter to the Chinese in the end. I'm puzzled why he clubs Eurasia together in one giant lump when there was so many clashes of civilizations going on within the continent. (Whatever happened to the whole east vs. west divide?) What about the modern colonization of the east?

The underlying assumption throughout the book is that the modern western civilization is "better" and that that's what all human societies should have achieved. But they didn't. So why not? His repeated use of the term 'better' or 'more advanced' defined purely in terms of an industrial-capitalist mindset bugs me.

I was struck with this passage where the author describes the war between the Inca king Atahuallpa and the Spanish as 'well-known' because it had been recorded by several Spanishmen. Since when did history written purely by victors become 'well' known?

Finally, his selling of his thesis as something profound and fundamental is really over the top. I agree that environment has a role to play in history. But there are other factors - cultural and accidental - that play a role too.

1 comment:

  1. >> I was very puzzled by his complete neglect of India and China

    When compared with African and American colonization, India were lucky
    Atrocious as British were on India, we werent sold into slavery or completely ahilated.
    In some pragmatic cases, the British chose to partner affuent Indians in political and economic matters