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3.0 von 5 Sternen An interesting study, with many flaws, 12. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Taschenbuch)
Prof. Diamond has produced a fluently-written account of a popular theory -- that contemporary differences in human cultures and societies are the result solely of starting conditions with respect to geography and environment. However, the book holds numerous flaws.
There can be no doubt that Prof. Diamond is the master of a vast amount of data, biological and historical, and he marshals those data to good effect in support of his theories. However, there are many troubling omissions and contradictions contained in the book, which indicate that either there are important holes in Prof. Diamond's knowledge, or that he has been somewhat too selective in his use of data. For example, in discussing the native cereals available to various local groups for purposes of cultivation, he consistently speaks as if corn were the only grain available in Mesoamerica for domestication, and, indeed, that it was the only grain so domesticated. In fact, amaranth was also available, and domesticated. It further lacks many of the deficiencies which Diamond asserts made corn an imperfect domesticate. His failure to deal with this contradictory fact calls his more general arguments into question.
Diamond also ignores facts which are uncomfortable or unexplainable under the terms of his theory. For example, he points out that certain grasses native to the Eastern U.S. produce "dream" grains -- the example he offers is sumpweed. Yet the reason he offers that it was not domesticated is weak; it causes hay-fever, and has an objectionable smell. As Diamond should be aware, the question of whether a smell is objectionable is often culturally determined, as are many aesthetic notions. So the fact that we may find it objectionable now does not mean that contemporary consumers of it did, and does not explain why they failed fully to domesticate it. He also offers that other grains had seeds that were too small; but at the same time offers the example of corn being engineered over many years from teosinte, which had even more drawbacks. Why could these plants not have been bred for larger seeds, over time? Why did mesoamericans engineer corn in this way, while north-eastern inhabitants failed to do the same with the plants available to them? He argues that the fact that eastern US farmers abandoned their own crops when offered mesoamerican replacements indicates they were less worthwhile; but all that proves is that the mesoamericans had done a better job of engineering their crops for human consumption, not that those crops were better. Diamond also fails to provide an answer to the question of why mesoamericans failed to adopt the wheel. While arguing that the lack of large draft animals made their use unlikely, he acknowledges that the wheel was, in fact, first used as an adjunct to human labor, in the form of wheelbarrows. The reader is left to wonder why mesoamericans failed to adopt this practical use for the wheel, while leaving them on toys.
The book is irksome in its continual reliance on loose arguments, consistently indicated by the use of such terms as "surely", "clearly" or "it must therefore follow," etc. Those words indicate a weakness of proof, not clarity of proof, and encourage the reader to disagree with his conclusions. The book needs a good edit.
Finally, Prof. Diamond proves too little. It is unsurprising, and probably not subject to serious debate, that the earlier occupation of the old world by humans means those societies would have a head start over societies arising on a continent populated only tens of thousands of years later. Furthermore, it is intuitively acceptable that isolated societies (such as his precious New Guinea) are less likely to innovate, based on a lack of intellectual cross-currents and the inability to take advantage of new discoveries. But his book cannot explain the peculiar phenomenon of the rise of the West. His geographical and environmental advantages are spread over the whole Eurasian continent, from Spain to China, and are centered in the Fertile Crescent, and these areas have indubitably been linked by trade and war for millenia. Why, then, was America not colonized by Chinese explorers? Why was China invaded by Europeans during the eighteenth centuries and forward, and not the reverse. The fertile crescent was indeed the center of civilization for many years, while Europe was a back-water suffering invasion until the mid-seventeenth century. Why was that trend reversed so suddenly and dramatically, so that by the nineteenth century Britain, France and Russia could vie for protectorates from Palestine east to Indochina? The answer, I would argue, is that the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe -- indeed it began at the very time that China, the giant in terms of industrial production at the time, was turning in on itself. Why, then, did the IR, which is what made possible the enormous European expansion of the 18-19 centuries, occur in Europe and not China, Safavid Persia or the Ottoman Empire? That is the key question which Diamond's book leaves unanswered, and which, I believe, cannot be answered based on geography and climate alone. Better technological innovation is said to be a product of larger population sizes and densities; thus Eurasia's population is compared with Australia's to in support of that theory. But why did densely populated China fall behind in technological innovation versus the less crowded, less populated countries of Europe from about 1500 on?
So, while this is an interesting book, full of valuable tid-bits of information, it fails because the facts offered to support the theories are inconsistent and incomplete and because it ultmately fails to do what its author set out to do -- explain the rise to predominance of one set of cultures or civilizations over all others. Ultimately, it appears more as an opportunity for Prof. Diamond to show off his extensive knowledge than the marshalling of that knowledge in service of a larger argument
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