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Thursday, February 7, 2013

82

"Savaging Primitives"

"Diamond adds his voice to a very influential sector of American academia which is, naively or not, striving to bring back out-­of-­date caricatures of tribal peoples. These erudite and polymath academics claim scientific proof for their damaging theories and political views (as did respected eugenicists once). In my own, humbler, opinion, and experience, this is both completely wrong—both factually and morally—and extremely dangerous. The principal cause of the destruction of tribal peoples is the imposition of nation states. This does not save them; it kills them."
—Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, as part of what you might call a "sweeping denunciation" of Jared Diamond's "The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies" (Indiebound | Amazon). Barbara King has problems with it too, but asks her fellow anthropologists why they aren't, as a group, writing BETTER books which aim for the same general audience as Diamond does.



82 Comments / Post A Comment

Scandyhoovian

Ohh, Jared Diamond. I had a few professors in grad school who were not fans of his, and would not assign his work -- however, everyone always knew exactly what people were talking about when he was referenced, so it was pretty clear everyone had read his work.

It isn't entirely without its merits if you read it in conjunction with other works about the same topics. The trouble is those people who are casual readers, armchair historians, hobbyists -- most of them aren't going to be as thorough as trained historians about getting multiple perspectives and drawing conclusions. Which is not bad! Tunnel-visioning on a specific topic is hard and tedious and sometimes detrimental, it's good to have people who have touched upon a bit of everything. But the argument that there need to be better books out there that cater to that audience is a good one.

It's no secret WHY Jared Diamond has made his name with less-than-exemplary work. It's because he writes like a novelist, not a historian. Historians, by and large, are dry and tedious, and while younger, modern historians are starting to trend toward broader readability in the hopes of breaking into the casual reader market, it's still kind of a new thing. So those that do, like Diamond, are the people everyone knows about. They're making difficult topics accessible to mainstream readers, and that's important work. I just wish there were more people doing it. AND WOULD IT HURT TO LET SOME WOMEN IN DUDES, I MEAN COME ON. The casual history shelves right now are a total dudefest and it's really not indicative of the amount of ladies in the field at all.

(And hell, Guns, Germs, and Steel? That's a hell of a book, no matter how you hash it.)

SuperGogo

@Scandyhoovian I feel like there are a few women who are doing really well at writing compelling popular science, like Barbara Ehrenreich with socio-economic writing and Mary Roach with straight-up weird/mainstream science stuff. We just need their equivalent for history and anthropology.

Scandyhoovian

@SuperGogo The difference between popular history and just straight up academia is staggering to me, as a historian -- women are all up in everything I did while working on my masters, so popping into the pop history shelves at Barnes & Noble just makes me go "Wait, hold on." The lack of women's voices on the shelves is really, really noticeable. And it just doesn't make any sense to me, because there are a lot of women in the field!

Ham Snadwich

@SuperGogo - Like Barbara Tuchmann?

silverscreen

@Scandyhoovian
"The difference between popular history and just straight up academia is staggering to me, as a historian. [...] And it just doesn't make any sense to me, because there are a lot of women in the field!"
I always assumed that most popular history books were not written by academics, as academics are compelled to publish in PR'd journals, produce scholarly monographs, etc. Writing popular history wouldn't really be rewarded would it?
Of course, I agree with your larger point - it is really bizarre/troubling that so few popular history authors are female.

Hammitt

@Scandyhoovian

There are a few! Katherine Brown, etc. But yeah, women are very much missing from pop history. Or, um, good pop history (for their prevalence in mediocre pop history see: Doris Kearns Goodwin)

My theory, and I realize this is super gender-biased but based on my experience not wildly inaccurate is that military and diplomatic history are the most popular casual history titles, and those are fields still dominated by men.

Hammitt

@keaton

But isn't that sad? I mean, I'm an academic, and its true, popular history ISN'T rewarded. But isn't is just so SAD that we only reward academics who talk to each other, not those who would wish to speak to, you know, the f'ing public?

silverscreen

@Hammitt
Yeah. It really bums me out that writing popular history (?)often entails a loss of academic credibility. :( Many times I feel that academia is just chasing its own tail ...
Also, I think you are right on re: military/diplomatic history.

Scandyhoovian

@keaton Yeah, that's the sad part, though. It's seen as "selling out" to write for the popular masses, and somehow turning your nose up at academia as a whole. Which I think is crazy, especially considering how many people are saying academia is producing more degree-holding people than it can hire. How many of them can write well enough to hold a mass audience, I wonder?

milenakent

the king !!!!@n

hallelujah

I'll side eye this guy forever for that "let's learn from hunter-gatherer societies on how to raise our children!" pseudo-science bullshit. Letting infants throw themselves into a fire teaches them consequences! Open sexual play between adults and children respects their autonomy! Y'all are just uptight! SHUT UP, GUY, GUNS GERMS & STEEL WASN'T EVEN THAT GREAT.

MoxyCrimeFighter

@hallelujah Oh, snap, is there NAMBLA shit in G, G, & S?! I don't remember that, but I also don't remember, like, anything else from it, either. Also, I did a terrible job of reading that book. Worst grade I ever got was in that class that assigned it. So...glad I didn't waste my time?

hallelujah

@MoxyCrimeFighter It was in an article he did for the Daily Beast. Couched at the end by "I'm not suggesting we adopt all these practices, but...don't they kinda make sense??" And it's weird, because he contradicts that gross relativism completely with with this new book, about needing to "save" these people from themselves & their unsavory practices. I perhaps am overly hostile to this guy, but I just think he's a grade A asshole.

MoxyCrimeFighter

@hallelujah Ew. Definitely glad I didn't do more than skim so I could write the chapter synopses. I do remember the professors who team-taught the class (one biologist and one historian) asking us whether we thought the book's conclusions were fair, given how they could be interpreted as advocating, like, social Darwinism or racist/colonialist views.

Mlle Mlle

I am NOT a fan of Jared Diamond. Probably unfairly because I base my opinion mainly on how some people around me (hi family!) use his work to make some pretty unsavory claims about developed society. He's clearly a very very smart man but so much sweeping generalizations. Anyways though I feel justified now I'm also rather bummed that this book will probably be widely read by those same people who make unsavory claims...

katiemcgillicuddy

I'm going to try to read this at some point, cause I am a dummy and don't know who this guy is, but I would like to add that every time I see a commercial for Jared's Diamonds I start to violently twitch and a bloodrage washes over me.

honey cowl

@katiemcgillicuddy Omg, he went to Jared!!!!!

katiemcgillicuddy

@honey cowl I really thought for a second, "Oh my god, it's a post on how awful Jared's is, MY WHOLE LIFE HAS BEEN LEADING UP TO THIS".

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@katiemcgillicuddy
Suggest you not follow the links in the comments to various articles about Mr. Diamond, lest Jane Seymour's visage come to grace all of your banner ads.

This has happened to me.

katiemcgillicuddy

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Seriously, the freaking Jane Seymour thing makes me so mad cause she can be so fucking funny but then she has to go and start this idiot open heart crap and I just want to pour baby powder on my hand and slap her clean across the face.

honey cowl

@katiemcgillicuddy I thought the same. #notanintellectual

katiemcgillicuddy

@honey cowl Someone mentioned a book I remember from college just downthread, so I am going to pretend that I knew who this dude was at some point but I did so much damage to my brain back then that I just forgot. #lyingtomyself

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Okay, so if I remember from reading parts of it a few years ago, the central thesis of GG&S (I suppose notwithstanding the title) is that Europeans dominated the globe from the 16th to mid-20th Centuries because being positioned on a horizontal landmass gave them access to a wider variety of domestic animals. Am I getting that right? Assuming I am, isn't the obvious inadequacy with this theory that it doesn't explain why the world didn't end up Chinese-dominated, given that the Chinese historically had access to the same domestic animals?

I'm asking because I'm genuinely curious if this has been addressed. Of course, disproving one theory for European global domination just raises the question of what the correct explanation is.

RK Fire

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll There's a book called Why Nations Fail that is pretty interesting and quickly deconstructs Diamond's thesis from Guns, Germs, and Steel. I've been reading it on and off, but basically it's central thesis is focused around the role political institutions play as well as a particular society's openness to innovation and creativity.

maybe partying will help

I am here for any instance of Diamond getting ripped a new one.

The Lady of Shalott

@maybe partying will help ME TOO OH GOD ME TOO. If I never hear about Jared Diamond ever again, it will be too soon.

(Also, first-year history students whom I have taught: do not come into my classroom and tell me 'well in Guns Germs and Steel' because I will CUT YOU. No. And no. And again no. I think my favourite review was one where the reviewer said Diamond was "terribly confused" about history.)

maybe partying will help

@The Lady of Shalott

He came and spoke at my university in undergrad and my favorite professor gave us a very serious lecture the day of the event, all like Ok if you go to this, here are some things to remember, chiefest among them is that this guy does not necessarily know what he's talking about with regard to X, if you have questions about things he says PLEASE ASK ME WE CAN DISCUSS IT IN CLASS REALLY. He was like a dad talking to his kids about drugs.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@maybe partying will help
I'd say that getting influenced by bad anthropology can be more damaging than drugs.

the roughest toughest frail

@maybe partying will help ME TOO. Terry Hunt (of Easter Island fame) was one of my anthro professors and I swear he devoted an entire week to "Why Jared Diamond is Wrong".

maybe partying will help

@abetterfate

Heh, didn't Diamond make some statements about Easter Island specifically that were off?

smidge

@abetterfate I saw that NOVA and thought it was awesome. Also am jealous of all those kids who got to man the tow ropes.

schrodingers_cat

@maybe partying will help I didn't read Guns Germs and Steel, but Diamond talked a lot about Easter Island in Collapse, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was wrong

maybe partying will help

@schrodingers_cat

Yeah, I think something from Collapse was used in a lecture as part of a "this is how we DON'T hypothesize" example. wah wah.

the roughest toughest frail

@maybe partying will help Yup! It was a good sized chunk of his book, Collapse. He argued that the Rapa Nui civilization collapsed because they actively destroyed their forests to build the moai. Obviously, it's much, much more complicated than that, and, as Hunt and Lipo demonstrated, they didn't use logs to move the moai. I'm surprised Hunt was able to lecture on Diamond; I would have just stood there, rubbing my eyes and sighing.

Ham Snadwich

@The Lady of Shalott - I think that was Victor Davis Hanson, who you might want to take with a grain of salt. His main criticism seemed to be that Diamond was a mushy-headed liberal environmentalist that refused to acknowledge the inherent superiority of some cultures over others.

The Lady of Shalott

@Ham Snadwich I'm familiar with Hanson's work, and I'm definitely not saying I agree with it. But his review was highly entertaining.

Ham Snadwich

@The Lady of Shalott - Ugh. Can't stand that guy. If I have to read one more essay about how all our problems are due to our lack of classical education, I'm going to burn down his vineyard.

Vicky

Historians: What should casual history/nonfic readers who are not trained historians be reading? I'm just tired of hearing "Oh have you read GGS?" when asking for (specifically nonfiction, accessible to nonexperts, not totally dry) book recommendations.

The Lady of Shalott

@Vicky Well, history is a massive topic. What area are you looking into? Political or military history? Social history? American/European/Asian, something else?

Vicky

@The Lady of Shalott Yeah, I know I'm casting a wide net there. I have a little soft spot for JD because he puts a lot of focus on geography, where that's often totally ignored. So, things with a focus on geography. I guess.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Vicky
Not to step on the toes of trained historians, and I'd love thoughts from anyone who is more familiar with the scholarly debate, but I rather enjoyed Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, if you're looking for a comprehensive theory of history. It's not that casual, though.

smidge

@Vicky Also not a historian, but I really enjoyed "The Age of Wonder."

The Lady of Shalott

@Vicky The problem with history books is that no trained historian is going to write a book that encompasses ALL OF HISTORY--they're just not. So books that claim to have the answers to some kind of historical laws, like Diamond, get the side-eye because that's pretty antithetical to the way history is understood today. (Fukuyama has some interesting ideas, but he's not a historian at all--he's a political theorist and scientist, so his focus is pretty divergent.)

Soooo for geographical history for the layman? The Ur-Text for geographical history is Fernand Braudel's The Mediterranean, which covers the history of the sea and extrapolates it to discuss different concepts of time within history. But it is pretty damn advanced, so don't start there. Another massively important text in Canadian history is Donald Creighton's The Empire of the St. Lawrence, which posits that Canadian history is directly reliant on the St. Lawrence River.

But for starting out layman-level works, I like Down to Earth by Ted Steinberg, which is about the role of geography in American history. Wilderness and the American Mind is another good one, but it's less strictly abotu geography and more about the role that nature and wilderness in the American psyche.

/Canadian/North-American historian here so I am less qualified to speak on works that deal with geography in a European/Asian/African/Latin American context

Emby

@Vicky Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Vicky

@The Lady of Shalott I apologize for being so vague about this. I'm not trying to get all of history from one book, I just like reading about how/why/where things have happened (which is still vague, but hey). Most of what I've read, honestly, has been about specific human groups or specific plants.

These are great suggestions, thank you. The Creighton sounds particularly up my alley.

dracula's ghost

@Vicky I really recommend Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn To Decadence." It's a history of "The West" from like the Renaissance to the 20th century. Barzun (who died this year at age 103) is an old-school public intellectual, a delightful thinker, and incredibly engaging writer, a brilliant and erudite man. He's a cultural historian, just goes super deep on everything you can imagine. The printing press! Martin Luther! But also, like, Where Do Last Names Come From? And stuff. And he infuses his historical narrative with his own kind of ethical take on things. His subject position is as someone who lived through both world wars and was suicidal as a teenager because of the horrors of WWI. He then spent his whole career trying to simultaneously engage with the beauty of (western) mankind's culture and literature and art and thought while also never ever forgetting the horrors (western) mankind is capable of. He's just wonderful and that book is gigantic and you will feel awesome for reading it.

Scandyhoovian

@Vicky ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING BY VICTORIA DE GRAZIA. I mean, if you're interested in modern history and women and consumerism. She's written some seriously good books, my favorite of which is Irresistible Empire (discussing how American consumerism and global marketing totally changed the face of consumerism elsewhere in the world). Both The Culture of Consent and How Fascism Ruled Women are both great reads as well.

H.E. Ladypants

@Vicky 1491 by Charles C. Mann. I cannot preach how much 1491 should be read by everyone. Not only is it an extra ordinary history of the pre Columbian Americas but I think there is a lot of great information in there that puts in perspective how historians go about figuring things out and in turn, where one ought to be very cautious with certain methodologies.

Mann also really smacks around people who have some sort of idea of people living as though they were stuck in some history-less universe. That does not exist. Not ever. Not anywhere. There is no group of people living "exactly as they have since the dawn of time with no outside influence," despite several claims of just that by white folks who really wanted their noble savages to be real.

Thomas Cahill has also has a series of books about big important moments Western history that are not only pretty excellent but have enjoyable highly readable prose-styles. He is a great person to read if you think history is boring. It's like having this really interesting uncle sitting around excitedly telling you about how the past is awesome.

Scandyhoovian

@Scandyhoovian Also, if you're into WWII and art history, The Rape of Europa is a fantastic book (there is also an incredible documentary film of the same name if you're pressed for time -- the book is pretty dense). Really if you're into WWII at all I am like a veritable fountain of resources because that's what I got my masters in -- WWII, the Holocaust, and Modern Germany. I also did quite a bit of study in modern mainland European history as well, since my program required a declared minor (I chose 'World Systems,' but focused on European so it'd support my major).

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Scandyhoovian
Did you ever read 'Hitler's Empire' by chance? I kind of had my mind blown by that one, and if you have thoughts I'd love to hear them.

Miss Maszkerádi

@H.E. Ladypants I second Thomas Cahill!! I've got about five of his books and they're all marvelous. Definitely written for a lay audience but Mr. Cahill clearly knows his stuff. And he does indeed sound like somebody's cheerfully opinionated Irish uncle.

Scandyhoovian

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I have it, but I have yet to read it! My grad advisor had some books listed on his "didn't make it onto the syllabus" backpage to one of my courses and it sounded interesting, but I haven't quite made the time to read it yet. I've heard both good and bad things but I would like to read it for myself before I go making conclusions.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Scandyhoovian
Wait, what bad stuff have you heard?? I want to know because if I shouldn't be so impressed by it, then I'll stop!

Diana

@Vicky

STEPHEN PINKER. I'm reading The Better Angels of Our Nature right now and loving it. It's gotten a controversial reception but I'm definitely still digging it. However, it IS taking him out of his professional comfort zone. You should start with his earlier books like The Language Instinct. When Noam fucking Chomsky says you've made a seminal contribution to the world of popular linguistics, you've probably earned yourself a beer.

Also I'd like to second the shout out for The Rape of Europa. The documentary is available on Netflix Streaming and is equally excellent.

de Pizan

@H.E. Ladypants 1493 by Mann is also very good, although maybe not quite as engaging for me as 1491 was. But still well worth a read.

Amphora

@Vicky For ancient/medieval eras, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is a really fascinating take on European and Asian medieval history. Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror is a bit denser but really thorough on medieval (mostly French) society and political history, and she also has written about WWI.
If you're interested in prehistory, try The Horse, The Wheel, and Language about the really development of Eurasian culture out of hunter-gatherer societies.

spacetapir

@Vicky I've been floored by Peter Linebaugh's The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and by Sylvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation but maybe these don't totally count as history books?

rangiferina

@Vicky I'm not a historian at all, but "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick was very accessible and just a damn good read. (esp. if you have any interest in maritime history, whaling, or loved Moby Dick.)

Scandyhoovian

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Oh no, I don't want to pop your bubble or anything! Mazower is pretty well-respected in his target fields so it's not like a total trash of his work, but with Hitler's Empire in particular I've had multiple friends tell me that it's a good book, but that he makes some overreaches in his conclusions and sometimes seems to come at it from a "I have a conclusion and now I'll work the evidence to fit my conclusion" angle rather than bringing a conclusion out of what the evidence provides.

Like I said, I haven't read it yet, so I don't want to pass my own judgment. That's just what I've heard from my colleagues. They have all commended him for continuing to push against the idea that Hitler had everything planned out in his head well before he came to power, which is great. It's far more believable (and far more likely, given the evidence) that things escalated over time as the Nazis gained more and more of a hold over its citizens (if you have interest in such a thing, Peter Fritzsche's Life and Death in the Third Reich is a very accessible book about the Nazi use of propaganda and existing racial tensions to make German citizens consider Jews lesser and thus make it easier to ostracize and ultimately exile and kill them).

bocadelperro

@Vicky Felipe History postdoc here. Fernandez-Armesto's Millenium and Civilizations are two good places to start, although they are both huge books. I'm partial to Millenium because I think it's a better read.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Scandyhoovian
What particular conclusions, if you recall? I really liked this book and I'm curious! What I found most compelling was its conclusion that, while the Third Reich was defeated militarily, it succeeded in setting up as the default assumption for post-'45 international relations its ideology that ethnic homogeneity is the source of legitimacy for the nation state.

nyikint

@Vicky I liked Marks' Origins of the Modern World. It's thin, and an easy read but nice and makes an effort not to be "Euro-centric".

J Walter Weatherman

@Vicky If you're also into how/why/where things WILL (might) happen, I liked The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

Hammitt

@Vicky

HOW HAS NO ONE MENTIONED THE BEST BEST BEST BEST WRITER ABOUT GEOGRAPHY/HISTORY EVER?!

Okay, I may be a bit of a fan girl and that might be a little bit of an overstatement, BUT:

Get yourself to a bookstore and buy a copy of William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis right fucking now. Then sit down, curl up with tea, and watch the way you think about things change forever. Also see: anything and everything Cronon has ever written.

Last year for Christmas I gave all my family members books written by historians that are good for popular audiences. I have this rant about how we all bitch about Goodwin and McCullough but then hole up in our ivory towers and are like "eh, leave the public to those shitty awful historians, because we do not believe non-specialized readers are smart enough for our clearly AMAZING BRILLIANCE! So, you know, fuck the public." Which is bullshit and lazy as hell.

Anyway, the books i gave them were the following:

My brother
(a writer in New York / the smartest person ever born)

In the Presence of Mine Enemies - Ed Ayers (Best book about the Civil War ever?)

Rudeness and Civility - Kasson (about the invention of 19th C manners)

My sister
(a do-gooder and previous religion-major living in California, eats lots of home grown kale)

Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman - Helen Schmidt (I will let that title speak for itself)

This Republic of Suffering - Drew Gilpin Faust (one of my all time faves - about burying the civil war dead and the invention of modernism)

My mother
(who consistently is unable to distinguish between history and historical fiction, wants all things to read like novels)

The Murder of Helen Jewett - Patricia Cline Cohen (1830s murder mystery/social history)

The Lucky Ones - Mai Ngai (Three generations of a Chinese-American family in San Francisco - guest appearance by everything awful that happened at the St Louis World's Fair)

My father
(very Typical Dad - reads lots of big books mostly about wars)

Nature's Metropolis - Bill Cronon (the best book ever)

No Place of Grace - TJ Jackson Lears (hardest book on the list, but a fascinating look at late 19th C society)

My sister's fiance
(wears patagonia always and forever. Owns four David Attenborough box sets. Camps lots)

Changes in the Land - Bill Cronon

Scandyhoovian

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Again, I haven't read the book. I took a look at some of the amazon reviews last night and there are quite a few in there that draw some of the conclusions I know my colleagues had issues with, if you want to take a look.

This is definitely making me want to read the book over the weekend. I hope I can find the time!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Scandyhoovian
Awesome, and thanks! Let me know if you get a chance to read it, and we'l talk.

Emby

Jared Diamond kinda indirectly fucked me over when I used an example he related in a New Yorker article in the lede for an article I was writing about the psychology of revenge, and then it turned out he was mostly full of shit.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Emby
I thought that one piece was actually pretty good, though. What did I miss?

Emby

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll The Papua New Guinea taxi driver whose story he told is suing the New Yorker because he says that Diamond severely misinterpreted the motivations behind the conflict, and got many details about the alleged fight completely wrong.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Emby
Wait, like what details? Not to be a pest, but even if Diamond got the details of that particular conflict wrong, the general description was consistent with other things I've read at New Guinea highlanders. And haven't you ever fantasized about the satisfaction of hitting someone back?

I kind of liked that piece, but if it's totally wrong, I'd like to know so I can never talk about it again.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Emby
I saw your response in my email, but I think your use of two links in one comment caused the spam filter to block it. Here's the link to the open-access summary. Thanks!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Emby
And for anyone who, like me, is interested about what happened to the lawsuit (after all, anyone can file a lawsuit saying anything, that doesn't make it true), a recent report says that "Wemp and Mandigo's case was withdrawn by mutual consent after the sudden death of their lawyer but it's now understood that a new lawsuit is pending."

schrodingers_cat

I have cherished raging hate for Jared Diamond ever since I had to read Collapse and he spent six chapters talking about the Vikings in Greenland. Now the course that assigned that book makes students read Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby instead.

Michelle LeBlanc@twitter

Jared Diamond is so widely reviled, that there is actually a whole book devoted to pointing out that he was wrong in Collapse

Scandyhoovian

@Michelle LeBlanc@twitter I have to admit one of my very favorite things about Jared Diamond is all the work people do to prove how wrong he is (GIVE ME ALL THE TEARDOWNS. ALL OF THEM).

Then again, historian feuds give me all the great popcorny feelings. The "I will add an entire extra chapter into the rerelease of my book to prove you wrong point by point" feud between Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen is one of my very favorites.

schrodingers_cat

@Michelle LeBlanc@twitter AHAHAHAHA. I hated Collapse. Thank you for that link.

muralgirl

@Michelle LeBlanc@twitter Yes! This was edited my one of my favorite members of my dissertation committee, who always thinks I'm right, and so is therefore always right himself, obviously. So I should probably get around to reading it. Do I need to actually read Collapse first? Because that's really what's putting me off . . .

Scandyhoovian

@muralgirl You wouldn't have to read the whole thing cover to cover. The nice thing about Diamond is that he writes in a way where his work is easily gutted -- it's pretty easy to pull his theses out and find his main points, and then the rest is skimmable, if you've got a knack for skimming.

Diana

But seriously, who else IS doing this stuff? I've been enjoying Stephen Pinker's work (see above) but this is like, my favorite stuff to read ever and nobody else is writing to a generally-literate-but-casual-reader audience! Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your recommendations for books about disease, human nature, civilizational collapse, etc! If it was a cataclysm I want to read about it.

If you want a good history of something big and dramatic written by somebody who ISN'T a white male, check out The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind For 500,000 Years by Sonia Shah.

Amphora

@Diana The Great Mortality by John Kelly is mostly about the Black Death in the 14th century but also about disease vectors and weather anomalies and their impacts on societies. Lots of catastrophic stuff!

Also speaking of weather anomalies, have you heard about the theory of Bronze Age civilizations collapsing due to volcanic activity/subsequent global cooling (mini ice age)/floods/droughts? Cause I want a book on THAT.

LydiaohLydia

I don't know if Diamond is right or wrong about anything, but anyone who starts saying one culture is "better" than another gets the side eye from me.
I listened to an interview where he had lots of
opinions on how mothers should raise their children. Not impressed.

Bootsandcats

I think this is ongoing evidence why good ecologists should not be allowed into the social sciences. See also E.O. Wilson.

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