I’ve come across the name Jared Diamond a few times in the last year or two, and he sounds intriguing, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading any of his books. So, I was excited to hear that a three-part PBS documentary based on his book Guns, Germs and Steel would be broadcast starting this week.
So, I watched (most of) the first part this week, and the show disappointed me in several ways. First off, as noted elsewhere, it was slow (which is the primary reason I didn’t quite make it through the entire broadcast). But mostly, I found the presentation of the ideas insulting. The first episode explains how the availability of different resources (plants and animals to domesticate) led to different levels of cultural change in different parts of the planet in early human history. Good thesis, but it’s presented in two insulting ways: 1.) as if it is some revolutionary theory, and more importantly, 2.) as if Jared Diamond devised this theory all on his own. In fact, this is a long-established, uncontroversial academic theory, and Jared did not discover it; he is merely the popularizer.

Categories: Intellectual