Sometimes I try learn something, whether it’s a point of view or a writing style, so I pick up the occasional award winner to read. That way I know that chances are a panel of experts have sat down and decided that this book was something special. Thank you panel of experts – you’ve saved me a lot of time. As you would expect, most of them can be a little dry. Put simply: Pulitzer Prize winning books seldom become best sellers.
Except this one did.
It’s a book that keeps coming up on people’s “top 10 books you should read” lists, and I can understand why.
We all consider our daily lives to be “normal”, but normality is continually changing. What makes this book one of my favourites is that it takes you on a journey through roughly 13 000 years of human history, and demonstrates the how different “normal” can be.
I really enjoy books that make you question. For example: When a few Spanish soldiers crushed an Incan army (50 000 strong), and took their god king hostage because he didn’t understand the relevance in reading, why didn’t it, and couldn’t have happened the other way around? I love this book.
It all starts with food, then technology.
One of the things I had taken for granted was where our food comes from, and how we ended up with this system of food production. This little part of life we so easily compartmentalize meant life or death for many societies throughout history – aside from starvation, without the correct crops, and the technology to grow them, you can’t support more people. If you don’t have a large group of people that don’t have to worry about collecting or growing food, you can’t have diversification and specialization of skills. On top of that, without effective food production, you can’t have an army to protect you, as well as go out and claim new lands in your name.
Then the germs come into play.
Over an above the protection that a large group of well fed people have is a building up of immune systems in the community. Where there are individuals living closely together, there is the spread of disease. This is a good thing, because without an “up to date” immune system, people would begin to die as soon as a foreigners arrived at your port from whatever diseases they carried.
The steel part is a bit more self explanatory.
I really enjoyed this book, well most of it. There are some dry parts I’ll admit, but on a whole, I found this book to be fascinating, and made me wonder over and over again how things would have been different if certain civilizations had been able to grasp at power, as well as what can we expect to change in our future. Our normal lives are anything but normal if you consider that it took thousands of years to develop the technology to grow crops to support more people, that could develop specialized skills, to take over the world, and let you have a day job, and paycheck, and the occasional long week end.
The big question is what’s next, because something will be next.