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Guns, Germs and Predictable Reviews

February 19, 2010

If, like me, you generally like the Guardian’s science features, then please avoid reading Tim Radford‘s book club discussion of Jared Diamond‘s Guns, Germs and Steel. Ever since I noticed this book was on the Guardian’s reading list, it’s been an ongoing curiosity of mine as to how they will tackle the subject. Mainly because Diamond’s book, along with Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, urged me to move into studying evolution. Sadly, and perhaps not very surprisingly, you get little from the discussion bar an unequivocal acceptance of Diamond’s central thesis: that of environmental determinism.

Nowhere is there a mention of ideas that stand somewhat in opposition to Diamond’s, such as those in the 10,000 Year Explosion. Namely, the consequences of agriculture on recent human evolution, and the growing mountain of evidence supporting the contention that different human populations have adapted to their local environments.

And just to be clear: I think Diamond’s book is a well-written, scholarly account of human history, and it’s influence is not to be understated. But I also think he overlooked a large portion of the argument.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. sterling permalink
    March 13, 2010 1:42 am

    Diamond believes in environmental determinism? Really? That’s what the 10,000 Year Explosion is all about. Diamond believes that culture determines human behavior, but as E.O. Wilson pointed out, biology of the organism (i.e, genetics) determines culture.

    It’s a frickin material world out there folks. The ether of B.S. only goes so far.

    • wintz permalink*
      March 14, 2010 2:30 am

      Well, I’m not the only one accusing him of environmental determinism.

      Really, I think Wilson’s statement failed to pre-empt research emerging from both ontogenetic and cultural evolution that is moving away from viewing culture as a form of software for some genetically fixed, computational hardware. Instead, culture is not only actively engaged in shaping the brain, but it is also adapting to constraints placed on it at both individual and population levels.

  2. June 13, 2010 11:06 am

    I agree with your final paragraph. An entertaining book, but Diamond hasn’t a clue about culture.

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