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!

3 Steps to Tricking Your Reader (A Guide to Ethically Misleading Your Readers to Reaching Specific Conclusions)

Tricking Your Reader

What a title!  You’re here reading this because I’ve just suggested something that a lot of people might take offense to.  Tricking your reader?  What kind of madman would do that to the very people that provide his subsistence?  Never bite the hand that feeds!  To that, I say listen close, because this might be the most important thing you do as a writer.

How many times have you been watching a TV show and known how it would end within the first fifteen minutes?  If you haven’t, you ought to pay closer attention.  Media today of all types and formats have become predictable.  What’s the point of binge-watching that series on Netflix if you have every detail figured out before it plays out on screen?  Perhaps even more, who wants to spend the time to read a book when they already know the conclusion?  I’m going to present a few ways I try to spice up my writing to keep it fresh and, yes, mislead the reader into reaching false conclusions.

1. Laying the foundation: The first thing I do in many stories and novels that I write is figure out where I want to go.  I may write an outline for the whole book, or certain chapters, but I certainly know where I’m going.  From this point, I work backward to find the most effective way to get this information to you, the reader.  If I come right out and say everything up front, not only would the novel be short, it would have no character.  There would be no point to read it.  It’s important to provide a journey.  Every journey begins with a single step (Or so they say).  If I know a character is going to die much later in a story, I might provide clues, or I might not, but I’ll certainly be thinking about it as I write.  Often in TV, I find that characters that are about to die have more screen time than usual in that episode to get the viewer more invested emotionally (See any episode of The Walking Dead).  As a literary device, this is the standard format.  However, some writers don’t play by those rules.  Look at George R. R. Martin, who kills off major characters in the middle of a sentence, as though talking about their demise in passing.  Which brings me to…

2. Set the reader’s expectations: As an example from my own works, in the first book in The Corsair Uprising series entitled “The Azure Key,” the first three chapters took place on Earth in the future.  I set up expectations as to what technology had been developed, what was feasible, and I even wrote it from a semi-Hard Science Fiction standpoint.  That’s when all hell broke loose and I’m forced to talk about #3.

3. Break the expectations: Around Chapter 4, things get a little weird.  I would still classify the story as a little harder on the Hard-Soft Science Fiction scale (Hard being entirely scientifically accurate and soft laughing in the face of all human knowledge of physics).  Without spoiling anything, it is at this point in the story when the reader’s expectations are dashed and they are led quite literally to a place where our understanding of the Universe is minute by comparison to the others beings present.

Now it’s time for an example of how this is put into play.  Say I have three characters and I wanted to create distrust between them.  If I am showing the perspective of only one of those characters, I would create multiple scenarios that set up and then verify that character’s expectations.  For instance, they could see someone stealing, lying, cheating, or any number of other less-than-savory acts.  Then, I might set up a scenario in which tension rises between the characters until it’s almost unbearable to write, let alone read.

But is this lying, cheating, stealing person bad?  What if they were doing it for another purpose, something noble?  From one character’s perspective it might be hard to tell.  This is where I might break the reader’s expectations, or I might not.  What if the scenario I created was too effective and the reader knew that person couldn’t be all bad?  Wouldn’t it be more surprising to make the reader think they are redeemable and then show they are truly bad?  I try to create multiple scenarios like this in each of my books and so by the time my reader is finished they should feel surprised at least once or twice.

My goal here is not to be another M. Night Shyamalan, creating shocks for the sake of it.  Rather, I aim to enrich the reading experience by providing thrills where possible but keeping the pages turning and the questions forming in my reader’s mind.  If I’ve done my job, the reader’s emotional palette will be raw by the time they’re finished and they feel compelled to see how I can toy with them next.  In relation to The Corsair Uprising series, I would say that in addition to individual books containing this misleading tactics, there is an arc, or perhaps several arcs, between the books that are perhaps even more compelling than any individual book.

Writers: How have you toyed with your reader and what was your purpose in doing so?

Readers: Do you like reading works that surprise you, or is predictable your style of choice?