Guns, Germs and Steel: the TV show

Episode one shows here at 9PM Tuesday. Check your local listings.


Wow! That was such a great book. Can they do it justice, I wonder?

OOH! I’m so glad I read this! I would not want to miss it, and it’s on tomorrow night here. Unless, of course, they mangle it. But PBS is usually pretty good about that.

It also comes out on DVD Tuesday. Think I’m gonna Netflix it and be two weeks ahead of you PBS sheep. :smiley:

That’s the book where in the opening he claims that

a. There are no differences of intelligence between cultures


b. But the Maori’s are smartest of all


Thanks but no.

I haven’t read it or any other works of his, but this is why you dismissed the book? Unless I am missing something, at least for me semantically, intelligence and “smarts” are two different balloons. Intelligence is the way we interact and improvise with the environment, which is why animals and humans are actually pretty close sometimes intelligence wise. However, humans appear to be “smarter” than other animals, even animals of seemingly equal intelligence, because humans have aeons of greater technology and science.

What am I missing?

Wow! I’ll be watching!

Where does he say this? Could you qoute what he says that makes you think he means this?

In the intro. I’m at work and don’t have the book, but you can read the debate about that very passage here. (Note: the thread is about JD’s latest book Catastrophe, btw.) The fact that 1/3 of the series is going to be about New Guineans is pretty much all I need to know about this. (Sorry for the reference to Maori’s - I got my “new” islands mixed up when typing.)

Looking over it, I see that Rune quoted a lot of the passages so let me re-paste them here (thanks, Rune!):

Essentially Diamond argues that IQ theories based on race are incorrect unless they have New Guineans on top. A :rolleyes: statement if I ever heard one, all the more pathetic in that it was in a well-received book. Take the above words and transplant NG and European and see how well that flies.

Also, his message comes down to the one you get from your realtor in setting up shop: all that matters is location, location, location. Pretty simplistic stuff.

I’ve heard this book mentioned before here on the SDMB. In fact, one Doper hypothesized that it’s the book more Dopers have read than any other book (excluding, of course, the Cecil Adams books).

What’s it about?

The show is on Monday 7/11 in some areas. Be warned!

JohnT, IMO Diamond was making an ironic point about the New Guineans, a commentary on the usual racist assumptions. It’s hard for me to see how anybody could read his words as racist themselves.

I have my own disagreements with the book, so I don’t want to overpraise it. But if you misread this section so badly it’s not surprising you would find the rest of the book wanting because it’s essentially a continuation of the same argument. Different cultures, responding to different conditions, made different but equally valid decisions on how to confront them. It’s a multiculturalist argument, certainly, but not a simplistic “everyone is good” argument but an analysis of the origins of cultures in much the same way as Marvin Harris’ books are. Location is crucial, but his arguments don’t boil down to location, location, location. They are much deeper and more interesting than that.

JohnT – Try reading the rest of the book before criticizing it.

No, he does not. He argues, convincingly, that although environmental pressures may have resulted in some specific groups (e.g., New Guineans) showing more of certain kinds of intelligence, questions such as why, for example, 18th century Eurasia was so much more technologically advanced than 18th century Africa, cannot be answered by facile declarations of one “race” being smarter than another. (Particularly given that Africans are actually very genetically diverse.)

It wouldn’t fly well because it would make no sense. Did you read the passage?

The main thrust of the book is that, while it’s easy to find the proximate reasons why, for instance, Europeans invaded and conquered the Americas instead of the other way around (those being the title of the book), the ultimate causes go back to geography, climate and available domesticable plants and animals.

Read it; see if you think it makes a convincing case. If you disagree, bring a logical refutation to GD.

I’ll take a look at the PBS show; it’d be nice to see some of the people I’ve been reading about.

I think Diamond is making the point that what ensures your survival in a harsh nomadic environment like New Guinea is your wits and knowledge of local plants, animals and weather patterns, while survival in agricultural Europe depends largely on one’s resistance to disease. That said, if a bunch of New Guineans emigrated to Europe and tried to assimilate, or Europeans to New Guinea, no doubt they’d find it uncomfortable and a few might die, but within a few generations their descendants would have gone native pretty thoroughly, so speculating on genetic superiority is pointless.

That said, he is somewhat personally biased toward the people he has spent much of his life studying and feels some need to challenge racist notions of inferiority, but putting that minor glitch in objectivity aside, his book is still excellent and I suspect could be made into an impressive mini-series with one episode per chapter, much like Cosmos twenty-five years ago.

We’ve had this debate before and my impression was that it was just a 1/2 a page throwaway in a 600+ page book that wasn’t meant as a sort of devils advocate position rather than serious scientific speculation.

Well, I didn’t want to turn this into a GD (though that’s exactly what I did) and I did read the book when it was originally released back in 1997. Nor am I calling him a racist, but rather a person who, in the same paragraph, argues against “racial” theories of human development and then goes ahead and argues for his belief that New Guineans are more “intelligent” than Europeans. His words, not mine.

However, the entire prologue (which I realize is not the thesis of the book) shows Diamond not as a dispassionate scientist who is looking for answers but as an ideologue who is out to prove a point. I have no doubt that a lot of what he says is “true” (as much as any hypothesis can be called “true”), but people, cultures, societies aren’t as simple as he makes them seem, nor can the rise of the West be completely attributable to environmental factors.

It’s not “misreading” the book - it’s taking it for what it is: a partial explanation of the processes that gave rise to modernity.

Just reminding you guys that this is a 3 PART series…I have it ReplayTv’d for the hubby and I to watch.

Someone you disagree with is an ideologue out to prove a point. Is, therefore, someone you agree with a scientist who has come to a conclusion about societies and presents supporting evidence for it?

This is why I stay out of GD.

In Cafe Society, however, I thought that jumping into an enthusiasts’ thread and crapping on it was considered bad form.

Of course, since you’ve expressed an opinion, I guess that makes you an ideologue, too. Congratulations.

It’s a safe bet that Diamond’s explanation is only a partial one, since a complete explanation would be about eight million pages long, but are there specific fields you think he overlooked?

Well, yeah Brian. Sociology, cultural studies, etc. There’s tons of fields that he ignored in order to make his point.

At best Diamond showed why it was likely that an Eurasian civilization would be the one to dominate the globe. What he didn’t do at all was explain why it was specifically the Europeans that did so - but so, so many claim that’s what he did.

Anyway, pretty good episode. I see that he ignored his prologue, except for the Yali bit. :wink:

You can accuse him of a lot of things but his position is internally consistant if nothing else. Diamond’s central thesis was that a combination of Agriculture, Warfare (Guns), Diesese resistance (Germs), and technology (steel) was the reason for european success, not intelligence. What I gathered from his New Guinean example was a demonstration of how utterly little “intelligence” had to do with dominance. His argument was basically, even if the New Guineans were radically more intelligent, in the end, it did them diddly squat worth of good because they were geographically isolated in mountain valleys and lacked domesticatable animals and a good climate for agriculture. This isn’t a racial theory of discrimination, it’s a geographical theory.

The first installment was on PBS in NY last night, but I went to bed before it started and forgot to tape it. Did anyone see it, and how was it?