Interdisciplinarity of Diamond

Diamond, J. 1999. Guns, germs, and steel. W.W. Norton and Company, New York. (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 8)

Part II of Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel titled The Rise and Spread of Food Production Diamond aims to show how the domestication of plants changed homo sapiens lives. Diamond states that “plant and animal domestication meant much more food and hence much denser human populations. The resulting food surpluses…were a prerequisite for the development of settled, politically centralized, socially stratified, economically complex, technologically innovative societies” (p. 203-204). Diamond then describes how agriculture developed across the world, and focuses on independent origins of domestication. He goes on to show the shift from hunter-gatherer societies to that of agriculture and the factors that influenced the transition. Finally, chapter eight shows the benefits of locations such as the Fertile Crescent.

Diamond’s career has extended over many disciplines. His education began as an undergraduate of anthropology and history at Harvard, and extended to a PhD in physiology at Cambridge. After his education, he became a professor of physiology at Harvard, while simultaneously beginning a second career in ornithology and ecology of New Guinea. From there he went on the a third parallel career in environmental history and geography, which leads us to his book Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Diamond has been described as a polymath; a person with expertise in a significant number of disciplines, and a person who can draw on complex and diverse bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. Although a dated term, often used to describe great thinkers from the enlightenment, Diamond encompasses the interdisciplinary aspect of the definition, and shows this in his book. Although he is not a biologist or a paleobotanist, he is able to draw complex conclusions that truly span across multiple disciplines.

As we discussed, his book does lack the vibrant storylines that we’re used to in The 100-mile Diet, or the Triumph of Seeds. An at times, Diamond seems as though he condescends the readers in such instances as having to specify that a rhinoceros may be dangerous to hunt, or giving us 9 examples of animals that can be milked. Thanks, but I think the reader got the point after the first few. But having said that, perhaps his examples, although excruciating to me at times, could be why the book is so widely ready across a broad audience. These chapters were a bit of a slog to get through, but at the very least, the depth of knowlege was interesting



One thought on “Interdisciplinarity of Diamond

  1. I completely agree, the chapters we read were demeaning but very informative. I admire Diamonds attention to detail, so much detail that it very efficiently put me to sleep. I found myself getting lost in the detail and counting the pages to the end. Lyn was so right when she said that “she spoiled us with the likes of Hansen, Pollen, Smith and MacKinnon”


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