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Archer81
04-04-2010, 12:36 PM
I am writing a paper about Jared Diamond's work. I hate the book, and not too fond of the Nat'l geo series, but I have writers block. Anyone read this book who can give me their opinion on it?


:Broncos:

Cmac821
04-04-2010, 12:41 PM
Read an excerpt of it in class, it covered the proximate factors of why the Native Americans were so easily conquered; if that helps

That One Guy
04-04-2010, 12:41 PM
Haha... cheater...

Sorry, never read it, tried Wikipedia? Sometimes reading what is said in a different wording or interpretation can help spur something.

Archer81
04-04-2010, 12:43 PM
Ive read it. Ive watched the tv series...I dont like diamond's conclusions or approach...and that dislike is killing my ability to succinctly put into words why i disagree. Inevitably, All I have written is "this book is bs" over and over...


:Broncos:

Bronco CB40
04-04-2010, 12:45 PM
I like Jared Diamond's works such as The Third Chimpanzee and Collapse, but haven't read this particular book from him.

Pseudofool
04-04-2010, 01:04 PM
Just pick a specific thread (anything that occurs over and over in the book, from an argument, to his use of examples, to his framing history, but it's got to be specific) and argue how that specific thread is a microcosm of the whole book. That's the formula for every successful college paper, IMO. (Some more unsolicited advice, before you even begin a book that you know you have to write about, read as many summaries/reviews as you can, and decide what you will write about before you begin reading. That way as you read you can begin fleshing out your argument and getting evidence to support it.)

I don't know Diamond, but as far as science (or pseudo-science) writing goes, I've always been a sucker for Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene.

OABB
04-04-2010, 01:07 PM
Ive read it. Ive watched the tv series...I dont like diamond's conclusions or approach...and that dislike is killing my ability to succinctly put into words why i disagree. Inevitably, All I have written is "this book is bs" over and over...


:Broncos:

So why do you hate it than? It's kind of funny that you don't know why.

Archer81
04-04-2010, 01:36 PM
So why do you hate it than? It's kind of funny that you don't know why.


I know why I hate it. Putting it into words for a paper is the hard part. Especially 7 pages worth of why I disagree with it.

:Broncos:

slyinky
04-04-2010, 01:53 PM
I have the book but have yet to read it. You might check out the written reviews of it on Amazon in order to find your spark. There's over a thousand:

http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Germs-Steel-Fates-Societies/product-reviews/0393317552/ref=cm_cr_pr_helpful?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0

OABB
04-04-2010, 01:55 PM
I know why I hate it. Putting it into words for a paper is the hard part. Especially 7 pages worth of why I disagree with it.

:Broncos:

I tried to help.

slyinky
04-04-2010, 02:09 PM
The most helpful critical review

A strong theory convincingly argued, but marred by bias,
January 24, 2001 By Christopher A. Smith

This review is from: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Paperback)

According to Diamond, four factors are responsible for all historical developments: 1) availability of potential crops and domestic animals, 2) the orientation of continental axis to facilitate the spread of agriculture, 3) transfer of knowledge between continents, and 4) population size.

Diamond states that "those four sets of factors constitute big environmental differences that can be quantified objectively and that are not subject to dispute." Fair enough, but what *is* subject to dispute is that there might be some other factors at work. Thomas Sowell in Race and Culture does a good job of developing the thesis that the exchange of information among European cultures, facilitated by Europe's plentiful navigable rivers, was the key to Europe's technological and economic rise. David Landes in the Wealth and Poverty of Nations attributes China's conscious decision in the 1400's to isolate itself form other nations as the key event (decision) that caused it to lose it's technological advantage and fall behind Europe. (Diamond briefly touches on 15th Century China in the final chapter, but manages to boil this as well down to an accident of geography.)

This is unfortunate, because the book contains a wealth of excellent material which is excellently explained. Many of the core causes which Diamond explores ring very true, and his points are persuasively argued. The connection between the development of agriculture and the subsequent unequal rise of military capability worldwide is very convincing. But convincing though they may be, reading these theories one can't shake the sneaking suspicion that Diamond is selectively presenting evidence which he's has found to support his previously drawn conclusion, and neglecting evidence which runs counter.

Diamond plants these doubts through his sometimes-careless prose. Consider the following statement, which he includes in the introduction to his chapter on the rise of food production:

"My fellow farmhands were, for the most part, tough whites whose normal speech featured strings of curses, and who spent their weekdays working so that they could devote their weekends to squandering their weeks' wages in the local saloon. Among the farmhands, though, was a member of the Blackfoot Indian tribe named Levi, who behaved very differently from the coarse miners - being polite, gentle, responsible, sober, and well spoken"

I thought for a moment that I'd wandered into the script for "Dances With Wolves." Note that had this statement been turned on its head - had he, for example, recounted an unflattering anecdote about Native Americans or Hispanics -my instincts would immediately warn me that the author's biases might be influencing how he chooses to present the evidence. I myself am a Black American, I'm all too painfully aware that we've had to wade through some pretty grim stuff penned by authors clutching at straws to support their racist white supremacist views of the world. In this case Diamond does the reverse by aiming his negative bias towards Caucasians, but if I'm truly interested in unbiased science then my skepticism should remain the same.

That I lead with these criticisms is evidence of my disappointment in what could have been an excellent book, and indeed much of it *is* indeed excellent. This is a book that taught me much and has indeed changed my view of world history in many ways. I do recommend this book - the details are good and many of the theories ring true, but in the same breath I would warn against accepting Diamond's conclusions in their entirety without a bit of skepticism.

In summary, Guns, Germs, and Steel contains an important feature which David Landes's Wealth and Poverty of Nations so conspicuously lacks: a grand unifying theory which links the disparate growth rates of diverse societies worldwide. But Diamond's tidy conclusion that world history is simply a deterministic result of geography and nothing else is not entirely satisfying, especially in that it might cause us to be complacent about the future. I accept that accidents of geography have had a huge effect on mankind, and Diamond convincingly argues this. But culture and human decisions do matter. Diamond argues that human ingenuity is simply the result of the accident of having a larger population from which to draw innovations - but societies that internalize this philosophy do so at their considerable peril.


Discussion on the above viewpoint follows:
http://www.amazon.com/review/R1Y557JBALMN8K/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R1Y557JBALMN8K

colonelbeef
04-04-2010, 03:09 PM
I know why I hate it. Putting it into words for a paper is the hard part. Especially 7 pages worth of why I disagree with it.

:Broncos:

Shouldn't be that hard at all if you actually have sound reasoning as to why you disagree.

Collapse was actually a good book, and gave excellent insight as to why many empires eventually failed.

kappys
04-04-2010, 10:15 PM
I read this book some time ago - thought it was a good read but very repetitive. You could read the first chapter or two and get a good gist for what he will argue - by the end of the book the repetitive nature gets a bit tedious. I did not see the series.

I don't recall the work perfectly but I agree with the critique posted that it seems like the work of a man who had drawn a conclusion then found evidence to support it, however, I actually thought that he did attribute China's decline to its insular nature starting in the 14th century. I don't recall the book perfectly but he commented that the large organized govt opposed navigation and sailng(at that time the most advanced in the world) and restricted travel in order to quash opposition. He seemed to support that theory and I dont recall the "accident of geography" that he attributes to their decline. He also attributes much of their rise to the ability to grow large rice crops in concentrated areas.

The difficulty with the book is the lack of counterarguments to his theories. For example one might ask if access to work animals, waterways, easy to grow foodstuffs etc. is the key then why did Southeast Asia or Vietnam not rise to the level of China and India?

I am no expert in this area but the angle of attack would be to find countertheories to the ones he presented and address them.

s0phr0syne
04-04-2010, 10:18 PM
Hated reading the book as a part of a class, thought it read better without the dreaded assignment attachment. good luck!

houghtam
04-05-2010, 10:49 AM
I agree with the fact that there are holes in the argument, but there can be holes found in any argument. In my opinion, Diamond was masterful in coming up with the different conclusions for why some cultures had advantages over others. Diamond makes no attempt to hide the fact that he came upon a theory before finding evidence, in that he says right in the very first chapter that his idea to research this came from Yali's question, and that it was laughable that the answer to why white people have more than blacks is because white people are superior.

I don't agree with all of the conclusions, and if you hated the book, it seems like you've already got the groundwork for a lengthy paper. You should easily be able to come up with 7 pages, outlining each one of Diamond's points which he claim help cultural evolution (east/west axis, crop/animal husbandry, types of government, proximity/ease of invasion, etc.), and coming up with your own counter-arguments. If you have no counter-argument, then it's going to be difficult for for your prof to see why you thought it was BS.

Houshyamama
04-05-2010, 11:02 AM
Your obvious contempt for the book is going to make it difficult to write a quality argument. If you have disagreements with his theory, it should be quite easy to come up with counter-arguments. However, if your dislike for the book comes from religious or political views, I'd be very careful as they really have no place in a paper such as this. Counter his arguments if you can, but don't include your feelings.

kappys
04-05-2010, 11:33 AM
why don't you provide us with a few of the points you disagree with and counter arguments that you have to his position. If the difficulty is in putting pen to paper put the unorganized thoughts you have down here and you might get some better answers regarding ways to put them more succintly.

Pseudofool
04-05-2010, 11:36 AM
why don't you provide us with a few of the points you disagree with and counter arguments that you have to his position. If the difficulty is in putting pen to paper put the unorganized thoughts you have down here and you might get some better answers regarding ways to put them more succintly.
As the post above yours suggests, I'm sure his disagreements are emotional and ideological. Of course such disagreements won't help him write a quality paper. People fail to realize that school and writing papers isn't necessarily about what you think and feel, it's showing your ability to analyze information and texts. It's the analysis and the method that's important, not necessarily the content...

Archer81
04-05-2010, 12:26 PM
The paper was easier to write when I took a break from it. I dislike the book, but was able to see that while Diamond's points are valid; its only half the argument. Societies can be blessed with favorable geography, easily domesticated crops and animals and have an edge in technology but still end up disappearing from history or not developing the same way the Europeans did. Diamond insists that if all societies had the same access to the same starting point, they would all do the same thing. If he were theorizing about ants or bees he would be right. No two people think or do the same things; why would two cultures?

The Chinese were ahead of the Europeans in technology. They had larger fleets and a more centralized government then the fractured states of Europe. They had every advantage that Diamond says a society must have. The Chinese turned inwards, did not colonize and did not conquer regions outside of Asia. They chose to do this. Diamond never makes it a point to specifically factor in politics and culture as reasons for a society to dominate another, or not.

The diseases...that annoyed me the most. There is no way to accurately account for the impact of transmittable disease in Australia and the Americas. It cannot be denied it had some impact; but there are no accurate count for the living Natives before European arrival.

Thanks everybody for your imput. It did help. I appreciate it.

:Broncos: