Majikthise has a good post discussing Jared Diamond's excellent book Guns, Germs, and Steel. Those of you haven't read the book really ought to. It's been out a few years so this may seem an old discussion. I believe it is being discussed because Diamond has an op-ed piece discussing how civilizations collapse. (Typically through environmental destruction) Diamond's book though basically explains why Europe dominated the world. It primarily was due to cattle near the middle east enabling greater productivity, better plants that could be domesticated, and then the larger population enable disease to develop which the rest of the world had less immunity to. There's more than that, of course. There is also the layout of land and Eurasia allowed people to more east west with little change in climate whereas in the Americas and Africa one couldn't do that easily which meant ones cattle and plants likely wouldn't survive. All in all it really is a great book (and someone has my copy - I don't know who).
The reason I bring up Majikthise's post is because it gets into the issue of postmodernism. As readers know I now refuse to use that term as I think it's long ceased to have its useful meaning. It is now more than unhelpful. It's just a misleading pejorative term. Anyway, someone claimed that Diamond is rejecting the Enlightenment in deference to postmodernism. (Thus illustrating the term's pejorative status) It's a silly claim and highlights a lot that I really dislike about people invoking the term.
Just a note, I guess he has a new book coming out on the same stuff his op-ed is about. i.e. what causes civilizations to collapse. It's an interesting question given the Book of Mormon and the end of the Nephite civilization. Apparently it is causing a bit of a stir. The claim that civilizations often end via environmental destruction is hardly new though. But the issue of warfare and Diamond's downplaying it has apparently made the book controversial.
I can't speak to the science of the book, but I found it compelling. And I didn't find anything postmodern about it at all.
Indeed, I thought Diamond was very careful about his claims and firmly rooted them in the ideas you mention above.
His discussion of the environmental factors that may have made China less resistant to change than Europe/Middle East is very interesting and makes more sense to me than the theories that rest heavily on China's cultural-socio-political situation.
Guns, Germs and Steel was a great book. Unfortunately, not enough people will read it. I knew a guy (a relative of mine) who was in high levels of the USA military, and when visiting him, he went off on a rant about how the poor record of African vs. the wondorous history of Europe shows that white people are inherently superior to blacks.
Not sure what to say, I mentioned Diamond's book and rehashed its basic arguments. He refused to accept it and I suggested he read it for himself. He said he'd never do it.
Well, he just retired, so maybe his replacement will read it. I think Diamond's book is one of the best histories to come out in the last ten years.
Diamond's book was probably the most interesting read I've had in the last several years. Has anyone read "Collapse" yet? I bought my copy yesterday, and my expectations are high.
I bought my own version up here, so I think, for once, I'm not the one who has it.