Blog #4 – Diamond in the Rough

J, Diamond. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. p. 81-108, 126-150.

What did I learn this week? Never trust your first impressions.

The previous chapter (4) in Guns, Germs, and Steel was very difficult for me to read through without dozing off every few pages. Was it because I was caffeine-deprived? Possibly. Or was it because I had just read a portion of the Botany of Desire, whose author is an excellent and engaging storyteller, an hour prior? Bingo. 

My first impression of Guns, Germs, and Steel was not great; I found it extremely dry and dull. Harsh? Maybe. Knowing that I was going to have to read another four chapters of this book did not excite me in the least. So what did I do? I came prepared. Grande dark roast coffee in hand, I read. Having not read any books prior to this weeks reading, I felt as though I had a clean slate in my mind – no other books to compare it to. This really helped shape my thoughts on Diamond’s writing and made me appreciated how he thoughtfully conveys historical knowledge and ideas.

In Chapter 4, Farmer Power, Diamond discusses the history of farming, and idea that the “availability of consumable calories means more people,” (p.82). I thought that this chapter was really interesting, as Diamond talks about how the sedentary lifestyle – which involved establishing a ‘home-base’ of sorts by sourcing and farming food close to where one lived – dominated the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in certain areas of the globe during different time periods. Also, he explained how living a sedentary life resulted in higher rates of birth, therefore forming denser populations; those born will then likely later establish farms of their own, and so on. The population of hunter-gatherers were not able to grow as quickly because their children had to be able to ‘keep up with the tribe‘ (p.85) and not hold them back. I have to be honest, I’ve never really thought about how we as a human population began farming and living this way, and how one way of living began to ‘out-compete’ or dominate another way of living. “They persisted as hunter gatherers until the modern world finally swept upon them,” (p.99). So interesting!

Diamond also, in later chapters, discusses how the domestication of animals and plants increased the advancement of humans. The idea that those who lived the sedentary life ‘diversified’ wild plants through farming practices (p.103) is also really interesting. When you see how diverse the food we currently produce is – so many numerous varieties, shapes, sizes, colours – it makes one wonder, ‘What used to grow back then?’ and ‘What did it look like then, and how does it compare to todays produced and genetically modified goods?‘. I think it’s about time that scientists invent that time machine.

Overall, I found that this reading interesting – some sections were fairly dry, but after reading a few chapters from Diamond I’ve gotten used to it. I really began to enjoy reading about the historical aspects of where and how our food developed, and how we as humans made the transition from hunter-gatherers to sedentary dwellers. There are so many neat aspects of this book, but it is masked by Diamonds writing style – very textbook-like with little to no personal connection. This book, to me, is very much a diamond in the rough.

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