How to Discuss a Book

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Reader Comments (27)


Also, This was hilarious. I enjoyed it immensely. All I can say in regards to my experience with "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is that I once saw the documentary listed on Netflix instant play, read the synopsis, generally agreed with the idea and decided to watch something else.

November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRiver


November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE

Last panel made me laugh out loud. Pure genius, man. (Especially since a lot of people seem to do exactly what Rick describes - except for the fact they won't admit it even to themselves.)

November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

Oh my goodness I love that first panel! It might even count as a (tenative) win for Rick!

November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTabbykitten13

Second... WAIT WAIT FOUR! "Three, sir..."

November 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

How many people bought books on mythology by Joseph Campbell to place in their coffee tables to look smart? And of those, how many (I'm guessing about 99%) only heard of Joseph Campbell because George Lucas mentioned him?

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Skubinna

I go to thrift stores and such and always browse their books. Sometimes they'll have deals like, buy 2 get 3 free or 'books - 1 dollar, paper back - 50 cents' and then everything is half price anyway.

Anyway, I buy all the ones that look interesting, put them on my bookshelf and then wait for the power to go out so I'll have an excuse to read one.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Ugh. . . We've discussed Jared Diamond's ad nauseum in my department. This comic will be a hit on the break room cork board.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarson

Better defeat.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLummox JR

I watch a lot of shows/listen to music that, as a 20 year old, are considered unrecent. Now I have something awesome to say in response!

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaige

Is it wrong that I am totally behind Rick in the last panel? He's setting achievable goals in order to reach some measure of successful goal completion. Eventually, he'll reach the goal of becoming smart, not just looking or sounding smart, rather than trying too much too soon and falling short.

Truly, an inspiration for our age.

A classic comic.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKieran

Isn't that a bit like saying some sports teams had a hidden advantage because they had access to high draft picks?

It's not exactly a breathtaking insight.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCzernobog

The documentary is not worth watching. The book OTOH is interesting.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjh

I read texts about history pretty much constantly-- one entire bookcase in my home library is entirely dedicated to history books, plus about a third of my Nook collection-- so that first panel hit me as completely priceless: "If I felt a deep need for the latest information, I probably wouldn't be reading books about history, now would I?"

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscgvlmike

Have to second jh, above. The documentary is lousy. The book is well worth a read. I can also recommend Jared Diamond's «Collapse».

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersdh

The real reason people don't like Kindle: you can't put your books on display so you look smart.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Those who fail to learn from history.....

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I love the last panel! My boss actually has several bookshelves of old technology books from the 90s. He says they "make the engineers look smart" so he won't get rid of them.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I was forced, along with my entire starting class back in college, to read Guns, Germs & Steel.

I didn't agree with its suppositions - it's extremely determinist and doesn't adequately explain the cycle of conquest and colonialism - but I granted that at least it was an attempt to step away from racialist explanations.

I found a better book, however, fairly recently: Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu. It at least gives credence to the importance of political institutions, and indeed makes them central to the theory of divergence. It also explains why colonial dictatorships beget post-colonial dictatorships.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNalano

I did the same thing exactly with a Brief History of Time. The only difference was that I got bored and read the thing. I went on from that to end up with a degree in Physics.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Nanalo, if you found GGS deterministic, you missed the point, entirely. The whole point of the book was to move away from a deterministic point of view, which has, in many ways, dominated social science for the past several decades (until recently). I would recommend a re-read with that in mind.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Hey, neat, I've got a copy on the way from Amazon! :D

November 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I just got back from my book discussion group and was shown this. Now I have to wait 4 weeks to take it to show the group! They will love it--and maybe it will make some new converts to the strip.

November 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret Sandor

Gosh I dont come to BI for a month and someones using my name!

And to be fair to the germ guns, the germ catapults actually worked out quite well.

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE

Greg, he just replaced one determinism with another: Namely, he replaced racial determinism with biological determinism. He eschewed "these people are just better" in favor of "these people's lands are just better."

Writing the book solely from a biologist's point of view, he was singularly unequipped to make any insights into societal factors and as such glossed over them entirely. Such became obvious when he started making arguments as to the inevitability of conquest, or the stagnation of empire, or the divergence of neighbors with similar lands.

I read the book. I even questioned the man himself during a panel discussion. I think his contribution to historical analysis is interesting, but overall he's over-rated.

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNalano

Where and how quickly civilizations arose in the world was determined by the presence of plants and animals easy to domesticate for agriculture, and how many other human groups could be easily contacted and traded with from a given location. That's Guns Germs and Steel in a nutshell. But Diamond also had an excellent chapter on how human societies go through organizational stages based on their total population and amount of surplus food and goods. He does acknowledge that societal values and local history greatly affect the growth and spread of technology, but the longer the time span you consider, the less these things count.
Determinism isn't a philosophy when you can demonstrate the truth of your view with sound scientific methods, it's a theory - like the theory of evolution, or of relativity. Diamond's book was a watershed moment for the study of human history. As a person who lives in Mexico, among the people on the losing end of conquest, i can't say enough how important it is to the self-esteem of such societies to have a sound, logical explanation for why their culture was so easily overwhelmed, that wipes away nagging doubts that somehow they must have been inferior.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbriligg

I couldnt put guns, germs, and steel down. It was very cool. I disagree with his conclusions but yes it does appear that certain areas of the world were better setup for civilization then others.

November 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterisiah
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