Guns, Germs, and Steel:

I watched the third and final installment of Guns, Germs, and Steel on tv, about Africa. I found the section on the spread of African societies out of western Africa and the selection of where to establish tribes and villages to be very interesting. So far so good.

But, it seems to me that his argument really kind of fell apart in the last quarter of this last episode. The effort to explain Africa v. Malaysia/Singapore in terms of malaria (germs) exposure seemed to me to be largely question-begging on the role of institutions versus geography. And, although he expresses proper admiration for the complex pre-colonial African societies and germs in repelling European settlers, he again seems to beg his own question, which is why did the Europeans develop the technology and innovation to eventually plunder Africa, notwithstanding the obstacles, rather than the other way around (his question is a positive one, not a normative one about the immorality of the colonial behavior in their treatment of Africans). Not to mention that the pest controls and vaccinations that are needed in Africa have been created predominantly in the West, which again raises the question of why there instead of Africa. Of course, the ability to control pests in Malaysia/Singapore seems to be largely endogenous on having strong legal, political, and economic institutions in place first.

Diamond sems to be arguing tht the "best" way of life in Africa is in small, dispersed highland tribes, insulated from one another to prevent the spread of germs. But, this seems to prevent the accumulation of the population densities necessary to create the sort of material progress that is necessary to spawn guns and steel (and similar technological inventions). Diamond seems to focus only on the benefits of limiting the spread of germs, and suggests that made the African way of life more "fit" for their geography. But perhaps I am misunderstanding him here.

My impression was that in this last episode he seemed like he was really straining to stretch his story to fit his facts. I was also surprised that he also didn't mention the whole controversy of DDT and malaria control, but focused only on the search for a malaria vaccination.

Overall, I enjoyed the series a lot though. I thought the interspersing of old black & white film was an excellent story-telling technique to take the viewer back in time. I wish there was more stuff like this on tv!

I would be interested in everyone's comments again, especially if you have watched the entire series.