My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Diamond does a great job analyzing primitive societies from the perspective of an up-close observer, but one of the problems he suffers from is a massive case of anecdotal evidence that may or may not apply to larger populations. His examples are great, and some of his conclusions are interesting, but he has a really bad problem of writing as if he’s the expert on all things because of his experience with limited populations.
Where I saw this mostly lacking was whenever he was discussing an issue and then drawing a conclusion. The academic in me kept saying to myself while reading: “And your source for this conclusion?” But there was rarely sources brought up as any type of back-up to the arguments he was making. It made me suspect that he’s become so famous for his earlier work that I started to think he felt he didn’t have to back up his evidence with…well, evidence, because it wasn’t evidence; it was mainly a guess based on his years of experience out in the field.
The problem with this kind of conclusion he kept offering is that he’s relying on his own knowledge and guesses and then figures that it should be good enough because of his massive volume of work that preceeded him. Unfortunately, that’s not how science works, and he should know that as he is one of the people who has been in the trenches when this type of requirement was founded.
The problem with all of this is that he does have a lot of very interesting information, and when your information gathering process is criticized by others (and believe me, I’m not going to be the first or last one to make this criticism), it has a tendency to negate ALL of your evidence, which is probably the one tragedy in his shoddy attempt to provide good information.