NationStates Jolt Archive

Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Greater Valia
26-07-2005, 04:00
From Amazon. (

Read it about a month ago and thought it raised some interesting points. Now it appears theres a miniseries based off the book on GPB (Georgia Public Broadcasting; anyone that lives here go watch it right now!). Anyone else read it? If so what did you think of it?
26-07-2005, 04:04
I did. I think it's pretty good, raises a lot of interesting points and is very well documented. I'm looking forward to read his book on the collapse of civilizations.
26-07-2005, 04:05
I haven't a clue as to what it's about.
Why don't you give us a precis?
26-07-2005, 04:17
I haven't a clue as to what it's about.
Why don't you give us a precis?
It tries to explain why Europe became such a powehouse in technological, military and economic terms, when throughout most of history places like China, India, and the Middle East were more advanced.

It does so by explaining how Europe is particularly well positioned for several inventions from all around the world to end up there, where the conflicts between kingdoms left by Rome created a competition unseen in any other places.
The Nazz
26-07-2005, 04:52
It also goes into a lot of detail as to why Europe has such a developmental head start on much of the rest of the world. Basically, it came down to luck--if your starting place had a plethora of raw materials from which to choose, like grasses with large seeds, or easily domesticable animals, or sources of metal (or best of all, all of the above), then you had a head start developmentally on the rest of the world. It's an explanation as to why places like China and Europe and the Fertile Crescent developed societies before the Americas and the island nations. Fascinating book, although a bit redundant at times. It's on my top ten must read books.
26-07-2005, 08:42
You guys might be interested in this book.

The World System in the Thirteenth Century: Dead-End or Precursor?

An excerpt

Most Western historians writing about the rise of the West have treated that development as if it were independent of the West's relations to other high cultures. At first, thinking about this, I attributed it to ethnocentrism, pure and simple. But then I was struck by something else: Virtually all Western scholars, and especially those who had taken a global perspective on the "modern" world, began their histories in about A. D. 1400-just when both East and West were at their low ebb and when the organizational system that had existed prior to this time had broken down. By selecting this particular point to start their narratives, they could not help but write a similar plot, one in which the West "rose," apparently out of nowhere.

What would happen to the narrative if one started a little earlier? 1 Even more important, what would happen to the theoretical assumption that the peculiar form of Western capitalism, as it developed in sixteenthcentury western Europe, was a necessary and (almost) sufficient cause of Western hegemony? What if one looked at the system before European hegemony and if one looked at the organization of capital accumulation, "industrial" production, trade and distribution in comparative perspective? If one found wide variation among earlier economic organizations, all of which had yielded economic vitality and dynamism, then it might not be legitimate to attribute Europe's newly gained hegemony to "capitalism" in the unique form it took in Europe. It might be necessary, instead, to test an alternative hypothesis: that Europe's rise was substantially assisted by what it learned from other, more advanced cultures--at least until Europe overtook and subdued them.

A Global History of the Thirteenth Century

It was to explore such questions that I began to study the economic organization of the world in the thirteenth century. At the start, I had no intention of writing a book, but only of satisfying my curiosity over this puzzle. In the course of my five years of research, however, I found no single book, or even several books combined, that gave me a "global" picture of how international trade was organized at that time. Interestingly enough the separate histories I did find all hinted, usually in passing, at the manifold connections each place maintained with trading partners much farther afield. I became preoccupied with reconstructing those connections. 2

The basic conclusion I reached 3 was that there had existed, prior to the West's rise to preeminence in the sixteenth century, a complex and prosperous predecessor--a system of world trade and even "cultural" exchange that, at its peak toward the end of the thirteenth century, was integrating (if only at high points of an archipelago of towns) a very large number of advanced societies stretching between the extremes of northwestern Europe and China. Indeed, the century between A.D. 1250 and 1350 clearly seemed to constitute a crucial turning point in world history, a moment when the balance between East and West could have tipped in either direction. In terms of space, the Middle East heartland that linked the eastern Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean constituted a geographic fulcrum on which East and West were then roughly balanced.

Thus, at that time, one certainly could not have predicted the outcome of any contest between East and West. There seemed no historical necessity that shifted the system in favor of the West, nor was there any historical necessity that would have prevented cultures in the eastern regions from becoming progenitors of a "modern" world system. This thesis seemed at least as compelling to me as its opposite.

True, the "modern" world system that might have developed, had the East remained dominant, would probably have had different institutions and organization than the historically specific version that developed under European hegemony. But there is no reason to believe that, had the West not "risen," the world under different leadership would have remained stagnant.

Therefore, it seemed crucial to gain an understanding of the years between A.D. 1250 and 1350. 4 During that period, an international trade economy climaxed in the regions between northwestern Europe and China, yielding prosperity and artistic achievements in many of the places that were newly integrated.

This trading economy involved merchants and producers in an extensive (worldwide) if narrow network of exchange. Primary products, including but not confined to specialty agricultural items, mostly spices, constituted a significant proportion of all items traded, but over shorter distances in particular, manufactured goods were surprisingly central to the system. In fact, trade probably could not have been sustained over long distances without including manufactured goods such as textiles and weapons. The production of primary and manufactured goods was not only sufficient to meet local needs but, beyond that, the needs of export as well.

Moreover, long-distance trade involved a wide variety of merchant communities at various points along the routes, because distances, as measured by time, were calculated in weeks and months at best, and it took years to traverse the entire circuit. The merchants who handled successive transactions did not necessarily speak the same languages, nor were their local currencies the same. Yet goods were transferred, prices set, exchange rates agreed on, contracts entered into, credit extended, partnerships formed, and, obviously, records kept and agreements honored.

The scale of these exchanges was not very large, and the proportion of population and even production involved in international exchange constituted only a very small fraction of the total productivity of the societies. Relatively speaking, however, the scale of the system in the later Middle Ages was not substantially below that in the "early modern age" (i.e., after 1600), nor was the technology of production inferior to that of the later period. No great technological breakthroughs distinguish the late medieval from the early modern period.

The book that resulted from my research, Before European Hegemony, describes the system of world trade circa A.D. 1300, demonstrating how and to what extent the world was linked into this common commercial network of production and exchange. Since such production and exchange were relatively unimportant to the subsistence economies of all participating regions, I did not have to defend an unrealistic vision of a tightly entailed international system of interdependence. Clearly, this was not the case. But it was also true in the sixteenth century. Thus, if it is possible to argue that a world system began in that later century, it is equally plausible to acknowledge that it existed three hundred years earlier.

It is important to recognize that no system is fully global in the sense that all parts articulate evenly with one another, regardless of whether the role they play is central or peripheral. Even today, the world, more globally integrated than ever before in history, is broken up into important subspheres or subsystems--such as the Middle Eastern and North African system, the North Atlantic system, the Pacific Basin or Rim system, the eastern European bloc (functionally persisting, even though its socialist orientation has crumbled), and China, which is still a system unto itself. And within each of these blocs, certain major cities play key nodal roles, dominating the regions around them and often having more intense interactions with nodal centers in other systems than with their own peripheries.

In the thirteenth century, also, there were subsystems (defined by language, religion and empire, and measurable by relative transactions) dominated by imperial or core cities, as well as mediated by essentially hinterland-less trading enclaves. Their interactions with one another, although hardly as intense as today's, defined the contours of the larger system. Instead of airlines, these cities were bound together by sealanes, rivers, and great overland caravan routes, some of which had been in use since antiquity. Ports and oases served the same functions as do air terminals today, bringing diverse goods and people together from long distances.

Given the primitive technologies of transport that existed during the early period, however, few nodes located at opposite ends of the system could do business directly with one another. Journeys were broken down into much smaller geographic segments, with central places between flanking trading circuits serving as "break-in-bulk" exchanges for goods destined for more distant markets. Nor was the world the "global village" of today, sharing common consumer goals and assembly-line work in a vast international division of labor. The subsystems of the thirteenth century were much more self-sufficient than those of today and therefore less vitally dependent on one another for common survival. Nevertheless, what is remarkable is that, despite the hardships and handicaps that long-distance trade then entailed, so much of it went on.

An analysis of the movements of such trade leads us to distinguish, for analytical purposes, three very large circuits. The first was a western European one that dominated the Atlantic coast and many parts of the Mediterranean. The second was a Middle Eastern one that dominated both the land bridge along the Central Asian steppes and the sea bridge, with a short intervening overland route, between the eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. And finally, the third was the Far Eastern circuit of trade that connected the Indian subcontinent with Southeast Asia and China beyond. At that time, the strongest centers and circuits were located in the Middle East and Asia. In contrast, the European circuit was an upstart newcomer that for several early centuries was only tangentially and weakly linked to the core of the world system as it had developed between the eighth and eleventh centuries.

These three major circuits were, in turn, organized into some eight interlinked subsystems, within which smaller trading circuits and subcultural and political systems seemed to exist. Map 1 shows a rough delimitation of those eight subsystems. In the section that follows, we take up each of these circuits and subsystems in turn, but our emphasis is on how they connected with one another.

A very interesting map.

The eight circuits of the thirteenth-century world system
26-07-2005, 09:11
You might want to make that pic smaller....
26-07-2005, 09:15
I thought I only linked the URL. :confused:

I am not able to view the map myself, (inline, I mean) :confused:

Anyways, please tell me how ?
26-07-2005, 09:17
I thought I only linked the URL. :confused:

I am not able to view the map myself, (inline, I mean) :confused:

Anyways, please tell me how ?

I think just pasting the text of the link would work...
26-07-2005, 10:45
Showed as a link on here. All pics show as links for me tho. Might be in my settings.
26-07-2005, 11:01
Anyone else read it? If so what did you think of it?

It was a truly excellent book. It was very well reasoned. I would suggest following it up with "The Birth of Plenty" by William Bernstein.
26-07-2005, 12:36
Jared Diamond is a genius and for those who enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel, I advise you read Collapsed, also by Jared Diamond and Darwins Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett. There is also The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria, which touches on the evolution of Liberal Democratic Society and some of the reasons for the political/economic/religious dysfunctions in Russia, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East.