Saturday, September 19, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

I read this book for a macroeconomics class. Although it is an interesting book, as far as I can tell, it has nearly nothing to do with macroeconomics. The only reason I can see for requiring us to read this is to disabuse us of any notion we have of racial superiority before we start looking at economically less-developed countries.

Diamond's contention is that Eurasian society was more advanced, and so dominated the American, African, and Australian societies it met, because of advantages of Eurasia's positioning, flora, and fauna, instead of because of something superior in Eurasians themselves. In fact, one of Diamond's stranger side-tracks is when he argues that modern New Guineans are on average smarter than modern Americans. Despite our supposed stupidity, we still hand their asses to them in a GDP contest, and he says it's entirely a result of having heavy grains and large mammals to domesticate.

Diamond does a good job presenting his case. And then, because this is modern America, he does a good job restating his case for 400+ pages (sort of like The World is Flat, only not so self-congratulatory) and turning his case into a cottage industry. He also includes about 40 pictures of people from around the world with very little connection to the text. It was like he found out his publisher would let him have up to 40 pictures and he used the first 40 he could find. While the pictures show the wide range of human faces found on Earth, the text does nothing to set up the pictures or explain their connection to his theories.

My favorite thing about the book, though, was probably the following quote: "It may come as a surprise to learn that plant seeds can resist digestion by your gut and nonetheless germinate out of your feces. But any adventurous readers who are not too squeamish can make the test and prove it for themselves" (116). In preparation for accepting this challenge, I kept the seed of a plum and am waiting until I have some free time so I can root through my poop looking for a seed. Plus, I need to find out if a plum stone is going to get stuck in my intestines. I don't really want to have to explain this to a doctor.

Rating: 5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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