Guns, Germs, and Steel: Necessary History

Guns, Germs, and Steel: Necessary History

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.

Writing Style


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.

Key Takeaways

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.

***SPOILER ALERT***

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.

Nerd Alert

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!

Point Taken

‘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!

What is Grit?–How To Make It As An Author

What is Grit?–How To Make It As An Author

What is Grit?

Angela Duckworth is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner, and the author of the bestselling book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Her research predominantly deals with the study of success. While there are a number of professors and success experts writing about this very subject, many were referenced throughout her book and few wrote so cogently about it.

Duckworth’s research came to a head when she isolated the concept of grit, which she defines as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

10,000 Hours

In Grit, Duckworth mentions the work of Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. In it, Gladwell studies a number of highly successful people from past and present and comes to the conclusion that each of them participated in dedicated practice for at least 10,000 hours in order to become an expert, world-class performer, etc. Duckworth goes one step further and says that the underlying personality trait that allowed those successful people to put in that time was grit.

Mindset

Another famous researcher Duckworth relies on in making her case is Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University. She is the author of the acclaimed and widely read Mindsetwhich is also one of my favorite books on success. Her work is some of the most cited sources in multiple fields, including psychology, sociology, business, and others.

The Fixed Mindset

The crux of her research is based around two primary mindsets that people ordinarily have. The first is called the Fixed Mindset. People with this mindset don’t believe that they are capable of change or improving a certain aspect of their lives. Of course, the easiest of these aspects to expound upon is intelligence. A person with this mindset does not believe that they can grow smarter over time. In her studies, she found that this often led to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the person who believed they could not change was ultimately right.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

The Growth Mindset

The alternative to the Fixed Mindset is called the Growth Mindset. People with the Growth Mindset believe they are capable of internal change, such as becoming more intelligence through concentrated study. But, that’s not all. Dweck’s research found that the Growth Mindset led to better learning outcomes in students. Also, she found students could be taught to have a Growth Mindset.

How does this relate to grit? Duckworth found that grit and the Growth Mindset go hand-in-hand. Which makes intuitive sense in my opinion. People who believe what they do matters in their success try harder and longer in their pursuits of long-term goals.

A Solution For Struggling Authors

If you’re a writer or novelist who is struggling, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Do I believe I am capable of becoming a better writer given enough time and practice?
  2. How much effort am I willing to put in to achieve my goals?
  3. How long am I willing to put in consistent effort in order to achieve those goals?

If you can answer these questions satisfactorily and still want to be a writer, you’re probably on the write track (pun intended).

In all likelihood, it will take years to ‘make it’ with any creative pursuit. Most ‘overnight success stories’ are anything but. Most people do put in their 10,000 dedicated hours of practice before reaching success. Consider this: if you work full-time at a job, you probably put in about 2,080 hours per year. This means you could be an expert in that job within five years (if all of your time at work is dedicated, structured practice). However, most writers don’t write full-time. Ultimately, it can take a decade or more to get to the level of writing you need to be at to achieve the kind of success you’re looking for. In my case, that success includes selling enough books to justify writing as my full-time job.

Grit

Angela Duckworth’s book was a good read which reinforced what I already knew about the study of success. I would, however, say that reading Outliers and/or Mindset would be a better use of your time in the long run. Both are highly acclaimed, with snippets and buzz words becoming part of the vernacular.

What is your definition of success? What are you doing to get there?

Man’s Search For Meaning: An Author’s Take

Meaning

Victor Frankl‘s widely read masterpiece unlocks a part of the brain not often used in the fast-paced 21st century: Introspection. His story is a tragic one, wrought with the kind of death and despair so common during the Holocaust. Still, he managed to find meaning in those hard years. For him, it was about helping others find meaning in their lives. As a neurologist and psychiatrist, perhaps he was uniquely qualified to do this.

Meaning in Writing

After reading the book, I found myself asking myself what exactly my purpose was on this Earth. I’ve known since I was about eight that I wanted to be a writer, but beyond that I’ve always found it hard to discern what it was I was doing.

This begs the question: why do I write?

A Writer’s Curse

Do I write for fame, money, or influence? Do I write to entertain? To answer that, I had to look deep inside to realize that a lot of what I had done in my youth was directly related to what I’m doing now. I’ve played the guitar since I was eleven years old, acted in plays growing up, and was in the background of many a TV commercial, TV movie, and network television shows. I suppose I’ve always liked to entertain. The world has so much darkness in it, at times it’s hard to see the light. I enjoy showing others that there is a better way to approach life.

A way that includes introspection and enjoying the little things that make you happy.

Now, if only it paid the bills.

Chasing Delta

I once watched an interview with Elon Musk in which he mentioned the concept of delta in regards to changing the world. You can either create a large delta, or change, to a small amount of people, or a small delta to a vast amount of people if you want to change the world.

My goals for delta are two-fold.

First, I intend to reach the most readers I can and entertain them with my writing. However, beyond writing, I intend to do what I can for my community, mentoring others when possible and giving back in any way I can. In this way I can touch a large amount of people in a small way and a small amount of people in a large way.

For more on Elon Musk, consider reading the recent biography of him. It was well-written, definitive, and definitely an eye-opening journey into his world.

Writing for money

Although my ultimate goal is to entertain, I also need to eat. That’s why some of my books are free while most are not. However, I believe if my meaning is to entertain, then eventually I will make enough doing it to support myself solely with it. Given the trend in my sales figures, that time is coming fairly soon. Most writers, I believe, don’t write solely for money. If they do, I think the reader would be able to tell pretty quickly.

The Machine

Writers often find themselves in this sort of conundrum. Should I eat? Or, should I follow my dreams?

I’ve been there myself a number of times. However, at the end of the day, even if I’m doing a job to make ends meet while writing at night and in the early mornings, those moments while I’m writing make the rest worth it. It can feel at times like you’re a machine, working and working and seeing little return. Given enough time and dedicated practice, it does get better.

I’ve seen it with myself and I’ve seen it with my dad’s writing career, which only really took off after about twenty years of pounding out manuscript after manuscript and chaining himself to his desk. However, in the last 5-7 years he’s seen more success than most authors ever will.

Man’s Search For Meaning

Even if you don’t find your meaning upon completion of this book, the story is one worth being read by all. It is critical that the experiences of those who suffered through the holocaust are remembered for generations to come. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for all readers. It is a necessary read. It is a read that will turn your attention inward during times of strife.