Plants and People Blog
Entry #4 – Guns, Germs, and Steel (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 8)
Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York (NY): W.W Norton & Company. 85-113, 131-156 P.
I sit on my bed with my two fluffy pillows propped up behind my back and the dim light from my lamp radiating from my bedside table. I have Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel perched on my lap and with every turn of the page my eyelids droop more and more. Which is usually a good thing, since I use reading as a way to relax me before I fall asleep at night. The only problem is that it’s currently 1 o’clock in the afternoon and I have a full day of work and assignments a head of me. That event sums up my entire experience with reading this book: dry and boring. In these four chapters he proposes and attempts to answer many questions about plant domestication and the land involved in that process. In chapter 4, he discusses how plant and animal domestication allows for larger populations with politics, transportation and the ability to conduct war. Moving onto chapter 5, where he attempts to answer why some areas had food production earlier than others as well as, trying to determine if the local food was domesticated in that area or if a starter crop was used from another region. In chapter 6, Diamond answered the question: Why certain groups of people decided to remain hunter gatherers instead of adopting the practice of farming. Finally in chapter 8, he talks about why agriculture never developed in areas that could support it.
Since last week, my opinion of Diamonds writing has barely changed. I still enjoy the scientific aspect of the book, I find the topics he covers very interesting and thought provoking. He uses a very intricate and methodical approach when discussing his topics, which makes his writing very easy to follow. An example of this would be when he talks about radiocarbon dating in chapter 5, he first defines and explains radiocarbon dating, discusses the technical problems and then relates it to the topic at hand. I really enjoy that he uses diagrams and tables to summarize or further describe a topic. I think it gives you a deeper understanding of the topic because you get to see the information in another form and in a more condensed format. I also enjoy his use of maps, because, I am defiantly geographically challenged so having a visual aid really helps. I was excited that he interjected some personal touches in the book, such as his experience with a fellow farmhand named Levi and the pictures of people from all different cultures in chapter 5. Having these personal touches in the story is so important because it makes you relate to the story and gain a different perspective. I am reading information upon information and it is not even scratching the surface, meaning that I’m not internalizing any of it. For example, he describes the types of plants that were domesticated in New Guinea and the time of domestication occurred but that alone doesn’t mean anything to me. However, when he shows pictures of native New Guinea residents it defiantly puts the topic into perspective and makes me connect to it.
Other than that I found this book extremely hard to read because it was so dull and dry. Even though we only had to read 4 chapters, it felt like much more than that. I had to start taking notes because as soon as I finished the chapter I could not remember what it was about. All of the chapters were so packed full of information that it was heavy and tedious to read. What makes it even worse is that there are not any characters, humor, backstory or dialogue to break up the heavy information based text. Like I said in my past blog, I find his overuse of proposing questions extremely tiresome and annoying. I get that it can be a useful tool to propel his story forward and key in on specific ideas. However, being the intelligent man he is, I’m sure that he can find alternative ways to accomplish those goals without bombarding his reader with questions. I feel very disconnected from his writing because there isn’t that personal aspect of it, every time I write these blogs I try and add direct quotes from the books to illustrate my point, but with this book I was unsuccessful. I cannot think of one sentence that really jumped off the page and commanded my attention, it all just blurred into a mass of information and facts. The whole reason why I love to read is because it allows me to transport somewhere different for a short period of time. That is why this book was so hard for me to read, because I was unable to establish an emotional connection to it.
While this book is rich in information, it lacks a lot of key literary elements that I have enjoyed in past readings. I would recommend this book for individuals who have a real interest in the subject matter. However, for the people who want an engaging story with intriguing characters and a touch of humor I would say this book isn’t the one for you. I am excited to move on from Diamond and dive into the work of Michael Pollan once again.