History in a Nutshell
Jared Diamond’s ambitious work attempts to cover tens of thousands of years of history in about 450 pages. All told, what he created was nothing short of astonishing.
Guns, Germs, and Steel might read like a textbook in places, but in retrospect I still took away quite a bit from my reading. Diamond’s expertise is primarily with the New Guinean people, but the breadth of knowledge displayed in the book covered every part of the globe in some way. My main criticism is that parts of the book dragged and felt labored. The information itself was usually interesting, but because he was making a scientific case, he ended up beating a dead horse in some chapters, circling around to the same topics again and again. In that way, instead of 450 pages, I would be just as happy with 300. However, I may be in the minority here.
Diamond’s main purpose in writing Guns, Germs, and Steel was to show through strong research why some societies flourish and conquer wide swaths of land while others remain hunter-gatherers in nomadic tribes. However, the science presented was sound and the arguments convincing. But, at times Diamond seemed deeply irritated with our society’s colloquial views of, for instance, why the United States has become a superpower while other countries or peoples have not. This anger pours out into his writing.
In my opinion, it was unnecessary and detracts from the point he was trying to make. However, the raw information presented is convincing, which leads me to still recommend this book to lovers of history, geography, and anthropology.
History and You
Why does this matter? Why should you even bother reading history? Well, I would argue there’s no better genre to read if you want to write better stories. Consider George R. R. Martin and his series, A Song of Ice and Fire (made into HBO’s Game of Thrones). Much of what transpires in the series is based on historical events, although with fantasy elements added in. A large part is based on the War of the Roses which took place in England between 1455 and 1487 A.D.
However, in season six of the HBO series, a very major event was based on The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which a number of plotters attempted and failed to assassinate King James I of England. Guy Fawkes was one of those involved.
***END SPOILER ALERT***
My point here is that George R. R. Martin is widely credited with having amazing storytelling skills. He uses history, not as a crutch, but to inform his writing in a way that adds flavor and realism the reader can’t help but enjoy.
In my case, I’ve used a number of historical events to inform my writing. From Jim Crow laws to the Battle of Asculum, historical references can be found in the subtext of my books. Really, this is as much for my readers as it is for me. I enjoy reading about history and feel it adds something to my writing. Likewise, my readers often tell me they like the added subtle references, almost as if they are Easter eggs. Ahem, Nerd Alert!
‘Okay, okay, so I should read history, but where do I start?’
Anywhere. Guns, Germs, and Steel is a bit dry for your first outing, but it does provide a reference point for just about anything else you could think of reading in the future. Don’t want to start there? Check out my reading list to see if anything strikes your fancy.
Are you a history buff? I want to hear from you! I’m looking for recommendations for books to read, so jump onto that comment box and let me know what you’re reading!