Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guns, Germs and Steel

I notice that a few people have mentioned Guns, Germs and Steel recently. I read it about 10 years ago along with several other people on our staff at school. It is nice to integrate some of the big sweep books into the elementary curriculum.

We have been reading a lot of books lately on immigrants to North America - the Chinese in San Francisco, the Black pioneers of Nicodemus, Kansas, and the Gold Rush in the Yukon. We also read about pandas in China. To tie things together we have been doing a unit on staple foods around the world.

This really suits me right now. It is so much fun for the kids to eat food that is mentioned in the book they are reading, and then find out where it grows on a map of the world. It is so easy for me to cook up cornmeal mush and serve it with molasses, or cook up some yams in the oven or boil rice. I did tell the kids emphatically that I would not be taking them fishing.

I have been thinking a lot about how to present a map of the world. Traditionally the Atlantic Ocean is in the middle. But this does not suit us who are on the Pacific Rim. So I am using this one for now, and will see how I like it.

In any case, Guns, Germs and Steel is a stimulating book to read if one is teaching resources or world history and geography. Here is an excerpt of one review from Amazon,

    The deep significance of this book is that Diamond's thesis is not simply idle speculation. He proves that the Eurasian land mass had by far the best biological resources with which to develop agricultural societies, and was thus more able to form large, coherent, and powerful social entities.

    To support this idea, Diamond introduces thorough set of well-researched data on what kinds of plants and animals are necessary to support a farming society. He investigates the biological resources available to potential farmers in all parts of the world. The people of Eurasia had access to a suite of plants and animals that provided for their needs. Potential farmers in other parts of the world didn't-- and so their fertile soil went untilled.

    After establishing this strong foundation, Diamond falls into repeating ideas about the formation of large-scale societies. These ideas, while unoriginal, are still compelling, and Diamond presents them in a very clear and well-written way.

3 comments:

Dana said...

Do you have a favorite from the books on immigrants you read to your students?

My kids and I just finished reading Landed, about a Chinese merchant's son's process of being approved to enter the United States. We also read Tea with Milk, about a Japanese girl raised in San Francisco, who returned to Japan with her parents.

I'm always looking for geography related books.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I would recommend Toughboy and Sister and Winter Camp by Kirkpatrick Hill.

Sorry I can't write more about these books now. Maybe later.

Dana said...

Thanks, Suzanne. I'll look forward to reading those. I'll see if my library can get them on ILL, but if not, I see Amazon has them. I really enjoyed Laddie, which you had recommended.