Man, am I enjoying this book.
I was kind of hoping it was controversial, but maybe not. It does seem surprisingly common sensical from the way he writes it.
Haven't read Guns, Germs and Steel yet, but there have been a few books out which address some of the assertions he makes, and place much more emphasis on cultural development. Make sure you read VDH's Carnage & Culture if you want the opposing viewpoint.
I thought it would be controversial here as well... I got halfway through it, I just found it boring.
I read the whole thing, I think he raises some very valid points, eg the extent to which ones geographical environment will influence ones culture. Can't invent metallurgy if there is no metal available, etc. Commonsense really, although it's surprisingly rare that people actually consider these factors when making pronouncments. Of course, the facts he gathers are not commonly known. I never knew zebras were practically impossible to domesticate, for example. Or that people apparently acted like sociopaths to you if you weren't kin back in the beginning (although that hasn't entirely gone away, the perceived kinship lines have been extended quiote a bit in these cases).
regards Carnage & Culture
Looking at the preamble on amazon, it sounds like he's oversimplified GG&S considerably, as it never said that western hegemony was soley the result of geography, it simply lists geography as a major factor. It also mentions indigineous flora & fauna, mineral resources, cultural factors, degree of political organization, and degree of isolation. Oh yes, and germs. He also cites considerable archeological evidence.
I agree that GG&S didn't attribute everything to geography. Especially in the last chapter, he raised the very interesting point that government ended China's sea exploration and stopped their chances for them being the ones to colonize the Americas from the west coast.
Although that really wasn't the focus of that book, I'd like to read more about that idea. Like Japan's denial of outside influence during fuedal times and Europe's dark ages, where society seemed to be working actively against "progress".
I'm half way through a book titled "1421" that's about the voyages of Chinese treasure fleets throughout the world. The author suggests and points to some evidence for a Chinese circumnavigation of the globe and discovery of the americas, australia, and antarctica 50 years before the Europeans. I think the website is www.1421.tv