Bitter Fruit by Saadat Hasan Manto: A Review


Book #35 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


The first time I heard of Saadat Hasan Manto was during the start of year 12. We used to do something called Cultural Perspective classes (CPs for short). These were essentially extra-curricular classes where we learned new skills in addition to our main A-level subjects. Unfortunately, I could not get the CPs I wanted and was subsequently put into a creative writing CP.

Funnily enough, this is where I began to take storytelling seriously. Indeed, Allah works in mysterious ways. I began working on a novella called Home Is Where the Heart Is. Like many other projects of mine, it’s still unfinished, and I haven’t touched it in a long time. Perhaps I may post it on my blog someday. That is if my one singular reader would like to see it. Would you like to see it, reader?

Alas, I have digressed. As part of the CP, our teacher asked us to bring a short story from our respective cultural backgrounds (we were a very diverse cohort). I had never read a book by a Pakistani author, so I had no idea what story I’d bring in. I asked my dad, who suggested I take in a short story called Toba Tek Singh, by Saadat Hasan Manto.

This essentially kick-started my exploration into South Asian history and literature. Every book I’ve read since, from The Sole Spokesman, by Ayesha Jalal (fun fact: her mum was Manto’s sister-in-law), to Twilight In Delhi, by Ahmed Ali, started with Manto. In fact, seeing as I started this blog with research into Pakistani history, you could say that if it wasn’t for Manto, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

Recently, I decided to revisit Manto and purchased Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Khalid Hasan. This book collects 51 short stories, 1 play, 32 literary sketches, 15 literary portraits, 9 letters to Uncle Sam, 4 pieces by Manto about himself, as well as 3 appendices by Manto’s friends and family about the author. And so, there is a lot to get through in this here book review. But first, a bit of background about this groundbreaking Urdu writer.

Saadat Hasan Manto was born on the 11th May 1912 in Punjab, British India, to a Kashmiri Muslim family. His father was a local judge, and after his retirement, the family moved back to Amritsar, where Manto grew up. He had what seems like a difficult relationship with his father, who discouraged Manto from writing at an early age after he announced he would be writing for his school’s newspaper.

Manto struggled in school, failing his final examinations twice. Ironically, one of the subjects he failed to pass was Urdu, yet he would go on to become one of the greatest – if not the greatest – Urdu writers of all time. Despite his academic shortfalls, Manto was able to get into an Amritsar college but dropped out after failing his first-year examinations twice. It seems to me that Manto didn’t believe in “third time’s the charm.”

The biggest turning point for Manto was in 1933 (aged 21) when he met Bari Alig, author, critic and historian, who encouraged Manto to read French and Russian literature. Bari Alig persuaded Manto to undertake an Urdu translation of Victor Hugo’s The Last Days of a Condemned Man, which he completed in two weeks and published in Lahore. He also translated Oscar Wilde’s play Vera; or, The Nihilists. During this time, he wrote his first short story Tamasha about the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919, which was published anonymously due to fear of British reprisal.

In 1934, Manto enrolled in the famous Aligarh Muslim University, where he wrote more short stories for magazines. Predictably, he did not do well as a student and left after nine months after being falsely diagnosed with tuberculosis. He subsequently moved to Lahore, where he got his first regular job at a magazine called Paras. He also got involved with the Indian Progressive Writer’s Movement, a group of anti-imperial writers that spoke out against British Rule.

In 1936, Manto moved to Bombay to write for a film weekly called Mussawar. Thus began his love affair with India’s movie capital. He fell in love with the city and spent the next decade living there, only briefly leaving in 1941 to work for All-India Radio. Manto would go on to form friendships with many of India’s leading film stars, including Ashok Kumar, Noor Jehan and Sunder Shyam Chadda. He joined Filmistan in 1943 and began writing screenplays for movies such as Aatth Din, Shikari, Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib.

Unfortunately, due to the Partition of India, Manto was forced to leave Bombay behind and move to Lahore in 1948. This move was one that deeply saddened him, causing him to fall into the jaws of depression and the grip of alcoholism. His life in Pakistan was one of financial difficulty, emotional devastation and physical ailment. However, it was in Pakistan that he wrote his most poignant pieces on the horrors of Partition, single-handedly creating a new genre of literature.

Manto eventually lost his battle with alcoholism on the 18th January 1955 and died due to cirrhosis of the liver at the age of forty-two. He was survived by his wife and three daughters. Manto wrote his own epitaph; but, it did not appear on his gravestone due to his family’s fears that it would enrage the orthodox Muslim Ulama:

Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried all the arts and mysteries of short-story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, wondering who of the two is the greater short-story writer: God or he.

The 51 short stories collected in Bitter Fruit are considered by the translator to be Manto’s best works. Each and every one of them serves to bring to light the shadows of the world Manto lived in. It is for this reason that the subject matter is not for the faint-hearted. Almost all the stories tackle taboos in some way, whether it be prostitution, alcoholism or rape; however, despite the grim themes, Manto’s humanist approach shines through. The stories set during Partition are particularly gripping. The endings of which hit like the punchlines to an obituary.

While all the stories in Bitter Fruit are worthy of praise, I believe a few of them deserve special mention in this review. Here are five stories that stood out to me amongst the collection: By the Roadside, The Last Salute, The Great Divide, The Return, and The New Constitution.

The play In this Vortex is a short melodrama depicting the struggles of newlyweds Amjad and Saeeda. They had just gotten married and were on their way home when they got involved in a train accident in which Amjad was subsequently paralysed. The story follows on from there as Amjad struggles to come to terms with being an invalid, and Saeeda begins to look elsewhere for sexual gratification. While it may not be as good as his short stories, it is still a decent play nonetheless and serves as a testament to his range as a writer. I may even try to get a group of people together and perform/film it when I’m at university.

Most of the 32 sketches depict the rioting and looting that followed Partition. Being literary sketches, there isn’t much to say about them other than the fact they represent brief flashes of Manto’s imagination. That being said, they were entertaining. Here’s one such sketch:

Ritualistic Difference

‘I placed my knife across his windpipe and, slowly, very slowly, I slaughtered him.”
‘And why did you do that?’
‘What do you mean why?’
‘Why did you kill him the halal way?’
‘Because I enjoy doing it that way.’
‘You idiot, you should have chopped his neck off with one single blow. Like this.’
And the halal killer was dispatched in accordance with the correct ritual.

The 15 literary portraits were most entertaining due to Manto’s signature wit yet, at the same time, still deeply insightful. The one he did on Muhammad Ali Jinnah focused more on the Quaid-e-Azam’s home life than his political one, thus presenting him in an entirely new light compared to anything I’d read before. Manto also dedicated a heartfelt portrait to his mentor, Bari Alig. However, most of the portraits were of famous figures within the Bombay movie industry, so now I consider myself an expert in 1940s Bollywood gossip. Ashok Kumar, V.H. Desai and Kuldip Kaur were quite the characters.

The 9 letters to Uncle Sam are satirical letters to the US government. It is via these letters that Manto’s wit and political knowledge is brought to the forefront. Manto talks of all manner of subjects from the cold war to the differences between American and Pakistani women. He also expresses concern over the US’s military involvement in South Asia, which would plague the Subcontinent for years to come. Thereby illustrating that Manto was way ahead of his time. All in all, they make for very entertaining reads due to their absurdly wacky nature.

The 4 pieces by Manto about himself gives the reader an insider’s view into the writer’s life, much like a journal does its author. To My Readers is a heartbreaking account of Manto’s emotional turmoil about having to leave Bombay and the struggles he faced while in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Manto on Manto, he becomes victim to the same sharp wit he so generously heaped on others.

The 3 appendices are the reflections of those that knew Manto best: his friends and family. They allow the reader to understand the kind of person Manto was behind the page. Uncle Manto, by Hamid Jalal, is the tale of Manto’s struggle with alcoholism and the strain it put on his family. It ends with a detailed account of the writer’s final moments before he died, a most tragic end to the greatest short-story writer that ever lived.

In a literary career spanning over twenty years, Manto wrote over 250 short stories alongside a large body of plays and essays. His legacy is one rife with controversy. He was tried six times for obscenity; thrice in British India and thrice in Pakistan. Yet, he is still acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century in both India and Pakistan.

In an age of political turmoil, Manto wasn’t afraid to write about the darkest depths of human depravity, and his contribution to literature continues to inspire generations of writers (including yours truly).

Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary: A Review


Book #23 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


It’s no surprise to anyone that’s been following this blog that I’m a pretty big history buff and a self-taught one at that. I haven’t formally studied history at GCSEs or A-Levels, so most of my knowledge comes from books and the internet (shout out Kings and Generals on YouTube). That being said, history is just that: a story. A narrative. The prevailing narrative of world history in the West goes a little something like this:

  1. The Birth of Civilisation: Egypt and Mesopotamia
  2. The Classical Age: Greece and Rome
  3. The Dark Ages: Rise of Christianity
  4. The Rebirth: Renaissance and Reformation
  5. The Enlightenment: Exploration and Science
  6. The Revolutions: Democratic, Industrial, Technological
  7. Rise of Nation-States: Struggle for Empire
  8. The World Wars
  9. The Cold War
  10. The Triumph of Democratic Capitalism

But what about other parts of the world? How do they view world history? That’s where Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary comes in. Ansary attempts to retell world history from the Muslim perspective. A counter-narrative to the Western view of history that goes something like this:

  1. Ancient Times: Mesopotamia and Persia
  2. Birth of Islam
  3. The Khalifate: Quest for Universal Unity
  4. Fragmentation: Age of the Sultanates
  5. Catastrophe: Crusaders and Mongols
  6. Rebirth: The Three Empires Era
  7. Permeation of East by West
  8. The Reform Movements
  9. Triumph of the Secular Modernists
  10. The Islamist Reaction

Ansary does away with the diagnosis that the world’s current political turmoil results from a “clash of civilisations”; instead, he argues that it is a “clash of narratives”. Both the Western and Islamic world have gone through different experiences to get to where they are today. It is a failure to recognise these different experiences that have led to poor policy-making. Furthermore, the “clash of civilisations” diagnosis implies that Western and Islamic civilisation have mutually exclusive attributes. Secularism, democracy and science are not just attributes of Western civilisation. In fact, Ansary highlights how many things we consider to be Western achievements and ideas were actually predated in Islamic culture by centuries.

My favourite part of Destiny Disrupted would have to be chapters 2 to 4 detailing the early rise of Islam and the lives of Prophet Muhammad and the Rashidun. Ansary presents the facts, but he also explains the lessons that can be derived from them. After all, history isn’t just about the past; it is also about what we can learn for the future. For this reason, Ansary refers to this early period of Islam as a kind of theological drama. A drama that Muslims and non-Muslims alike can learn from. Ultimately, the story of the Rashidun (and subsequent Muslim leaders ever since) is a story about people trying to work out the best way to run civilisation in accordance with the Islamic social project. They may not always get it right – more often getting it completely wrong – but that is the ultimate destiny and goal of the Ummah as a socio-political body.

Many religions say to their followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can escape it.” Islam said to its followers, “the world is corrupt, but you can change it.”

Of course, as with any book that claims to be a complete retelling of history, one must remain cautious not to take its claim at face value. *Cough* Our Island Story *cough*. And this is where I must put forth some criticism. For a book that claims to be A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Ansary has left out large swaths of the Muslim world from his narrative. Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population on Earth, is only briefly mentioned once in the entire book.

Furthermore, pretty much the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa is left out of Ansary’s narrative. Perhaps the greatest crime of his work was the complete omission of the Mali Empire of Western Africa, a contemporary of the three empires he mentions during the rebirth period (Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals). I would argue, therefore, that Ansary’s work starts off as history of the world through Islamic eyes in its early chapters. But then ultimately morphs into a history of the world through Arab, Persian and Turkish eyes with some fair amount of time dedicated to South and Central Asia.

Despite its limitations, I would say that Ansary succeeded in presenting a counter-narrative to global history that proves very enlightening. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn more about early Islamic history and the Middle World (what we usually call the Middle East) from a non-Western perspective.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson: A Review


Book #18 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


If you’d been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I’m big on comic books. If you’d been paying attention, then you’d also know that one of my favourite characters is Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms Marvel, created by G. Willow Wilson. This is what led me to my most recent read: Alif the Unseen.

The novel is set in a fictional city, aptly named “the City”, somewhere along the Persian Gulf. A heavily stratified society ruled by an elite Arab aristocracy with large immigrant populations from all over the world (think Dubai or Riyadh). It is amongst the cultural amalgamation of Baqara District where imported labour from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the lesser Arab states live side by side that we find our protagonist: Alif.

Alif is a computer hacker; his services available to the highest bidder, whether they be the Islamists, the Communists, or the Feminists. As long as they’re against the regime, it doesn’t matter to him. Together, Alif and his computer hacking friends do everything they can to get back at the censors. A quasi-digital revolution, you could say. Unfortunately, this kind of life doesn’t come without its risks, and the infamous Hand (man? computer program? both?) is always on the prowl for anyone that dares defy the state authorities.

Everything was going to plan for Alif until the day his illicit girlfriend, Intisar, decides to break up with him after being betrothed to a member of the royal family. Crushed, Alif chooses to do what he does best, creating a computer program designed to recognise an individual by decoding their behavioural writing patterns. All so he can block Intisar from ever reaching him again (a bit excessive if you ask me). Of course, this kind of program could have disastrous consequences for Alif and the revolutionaries should it end up in the hands of the state. Which it does.

Now on the run from state authorities with his neighbour Dina, Alif comes across a mysterious book called the Alf Yeom (the Djinn’s equivalent of The One Thousand and One Nights). This opens up a new world to Alif as he straddles the line between the world of man and Djinn in his race to put a stop to the Hand. A fugitive on the run, Alif is about to be at the centre of events that will shock the City to its very core.

Willow G. Wilson creates a vibrant world filled with everything you could ask for in an action-adventure novel: Romance, Revolution, Magic, Technology, and, my personal favourite, Djinn. Not only that but Wilson also talks extensively about Islamic theology and highlights issues that are prevalent in the Muslim community with nuance and complexity in a way that doesn’t detract from the story.

Take, for example, the character referred to as “the convert”, an American woman that reverted to Islam and works at Al-Basheera University located in the Old Quarter. An American revert herself, Wilson details a few of the struggles that new members of the Muslim community face from their coreligionists through the convert’s interactions with Alif, Dina and the rest of the uniquely interesting characters that make up her novel. My favourite character being Vikram the Vampire, Alif’s Djinn protector, with his quick wit and constant banter about the fragility of beni adam.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a story that blends the seen with the unseen. Whenever I think of modern Islamic literature and fiction, this is what will come to mind. Many philosophical quandaries are proposed throughout this work, from the Qur’an and its relationship with quantum computing to the all-important question of whether it’s haram to consume virtual pork in a video game. I will most definitely be adding this to my personal canon. Highly entertaining.

I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali: A Review


Book #10 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine (one who has excellent taste in books), so I eagerly added it to my Amazon order of books for the first quarter of 2021. As my first foray into the genre of magical realism, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I turned the cover and plunged into the narrative. Having finished, I can now say that magical realism is now one of my top genres of novel, which works out great as I have One Hundred Years of Solitude lined up to read later in the year. Anyway, without further ado, let’s jump into my review.

I Stared at the Night of the City by Bakhtiyar Ali is the first Kurdish novel to be translated into English. The story follows a group of like-minded friends, all with powerful imaginations, on a quest to discover the truth behind the murder of two lovers. Their search brings them into direct conflict with the Barons, who hold great power and run the city behind the scenes. Each chapter is told from an unreliable narrator’s perspective, each with their own quirks, morals and ambitions. The onus is on the reader to piece together the narrative, deciding who is and isn’t to be trusted.

The novel centres on the conflict between Ghazalnus and the Baron of Imagination, as they battle for control over the Imaginative Creatures (people gifted with powerful imaginations). The Baron of Imagination seeks to use the Imaginative Creatures to construct a new district in the city, one that embodies imagination, a paradise on earth. Meanwhile, Ghazalnus believes that the imagination shouldn’t be exploited for material gain and despises the Baron’s thirst for power.

Alongside this central narrative, many subplots add to the rich tapestry. The redemption story of a former assassin, Hasan-i Pizo, being one such example. Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to characters and transported to beautiful gardens that blur the line between imagination and reality. Ultimately, the book is so multi-layered that my brief outline of the plot doesn’t do this masterpiece justice.

‘The entire revolution was such a fantastical event that no one knew exactly what to make of it. When the uprising succeeded, it came to a bitter, ugly end. One day, I killed a woman and looked into her eyes. That gaze changed my entire life. In the eyes of that woman, I saw the end of the fantasy. I saw the swept-away hat the comrade had talked about. My dear friends, my revolutionary comrades threw their fantasy away, and never revisited it. And no one ever asked what the fantasy of that long revolution actually was, or what became of the martyr’s fantasies. A revolution is like a dream. When it ends we all wake up, the dream fades and is forgotten. There is nothing in this world as fickle as a revolution.’

One of the novel’s central themes is revolution, vivified in the narrative via the philosophical quandary posed by Husni’s magical towel. Husni, a local towel merchant, owns a beautiful towel depicting the story of a king (realist) and a poet (idealist). On one side is a map depicting the tale of the king as he conquers an old city. On the other side is the same map, only more beautiful depicting the tale of the poet on his journey through the imagination.

As Husni’s towel changes hands throughout the novel, different characters have a go at interpreting the meaning behind the imagery. Who is more righteous? The poet or the king? Can poets and kings coexist? Can a king be a poet? Can a poet be a king? Must one slay the other? Can one slay the other? Which one slays the other? Is the king evil because he seeks power? Is the poet evil because he wields power but doesn’t wish to use it to better reality? And so on and so forth. Thus initiating an exciting discussion about imagination and reality in regards to the revolution. Not to mention the role of truth in all this.

I highly recommend I Stared at the Night of the City to anyone and everyone. The book had such a profound impact on my own ideas about the power of the imagination that I’d go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its multiple layers and deep meaning makes it a novel I will most definitely be revisiting in the future.

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: A Review


Book #6 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


As someone who has done quite a bit of research into the history of Indian Partition, I understand the frustration of trying to find novels set during the tumultuous period. The truth is there are very few novels that touch upon the subject. Perhaps because of how painful it was for those who lived through it. In many ways, Partition is becoming a part of forgotten history. Fortunately, I got my hands on a copy of Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.

The novel takes place in the fictional village of Mano Majra located on the new border between Pakistan and India. The village is an even split between Muslims and Sikhs with only a single Hindu family. Life is peaceful in Mano Majra and typical of a Punjabi village. Then one fateful night, Lala Ram Lal, the Hindu moneylender, is murdered.

Suspicion is laid at the feet of the local badmash, Juggat Singh, and a mysterious new arrival by the name of Iqbal (Mohammed? Chand? Singh?). Tensions begin to rise in Mano Majra, as news pours in of the atrocities committed by Muslims and Sikhs in the rest of Punjab. The villagers are then forced to make a decision that would change Mano Majra forever.

Khushwant Singh’s tale is an in-depth look into Partition on the local scale and doesn’t get bogged down in its politics. By focusing on its impact on the lives of regular village folk, Singh humanises a turning point in history that has often been devolved into a debate concerning Pakistan’s legitimacy. This isn’t a tale about two religious communities at each other’s throats but rather the coming of the apocalypse for the innocent people of Mano Majra. Their way of life is turned on its head due to the egos of those in power.

Throughout the novel, you get to meet an interesting assortment of characters. All of which seem as though they have lived full lives before you meet them and add to the fabric of the novel. Surprisingly, despite the number of characters, none of them come across as bland or irrelevant. Iqbal’s and Hukum Chand’s internal monologues are particularly gripping.

I highly recommend Train to Pakistan and go as far as to include it in my personal canon. Its social commentary provides insight into rural Punjabi life (in all its glorious vulgarities) and highlights the real human impacts of Partition. It wasn’t just the breaking up of a country but the breaking up of brotherly bonds tracing back generations.

The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi: A Review


Book #2 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally came across The Wish Maker after a google search:

novels set in pakistan

Something about the name Ali Sethi rung a bell but I couldn’t quite remember where I heard the name from. This inevitably led to another google search:

ali sethi

And as it turns out, Sethi is a Pakistani singer, and I had already listened to few tracks on which he is featured (most notably Coke Studio’s Aaqa). In fact, I had first heard Sethi’s voice years back when I watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I recommend both the novel and movie adaptation) which features his singing debut. I just didn’t know it was him. And so with a feeling of familial attachment akin to one you’d have for a very distant cousin, I decided to take a chance and pick up a copy.

The Wish Maker follows the story of a young man named Zaki Shirazi, who has returned home to Pakistan after studying abroad in America for a few years. The novel picks up with him arriving in Lahore for his cousin Samar’s wedding. It then branches off as Zaki, the narrator, recounts tales from his childhood set amidst the backdrop of Pakistan’s political history.

As the story progresses, you begin to learn more and more about the Shirazi family history as told through the lives of its female characters. I found Daadi’s childhood an incredibly heart-wrenching story of loss at the hands of cultural and political forces as well as her own. However, my favourite character has to be Zakia (Zaki’s mother). Her back and forth dynamic with young Zaki is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Sethi puts together a tapestry of the Shirazi family’s history that paints an enlightening picture of what life is like for Pakistan’s middle class. You can tell when reading that Sethi draws a lot of inspiration from his own life with the level of familiarity with which he writes. In many ways, the novel feels like an autobiography, the characters feel real, and the setting feels like home.

Because of this level of familiarity, non-Pakistanis (and maybe even Pakistani diaspora) may have difficulty grasping with the narrative. Sethi doesn’t go off on long-winded explanations to make his story accessible to those outside the country. Instead, Sethi has written a Pakistani novel for Pakistani readers. Most of its references are for a Pakistani audience – I’m sure that even I didn’t pick up on a few. Perhaps because of this reason, the book seems to have received relatively poor reviews on Goodreads; Pakistanis seem to love it while non-Pakistanis seem to be lost and confused.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone familiar with Pakistan. For me personally, the novel brought to life some of Pakistan’s most tumultuous times. The history that I’ve studied in other non-fiction books finally begins to feel real.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: A Review


Book #1 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally received this book as a Secret Santa gift back in 2018 with a pair of socks and a few coloured biros. At first glance, the book seemed far too long, and the subject matter didn’t interest me at the time. I was only 17 so the only things on my mind at the time were girls, video games, and A-levels (in that order).

In the two years since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in global development within post-colonial contexts. Studying the history of various ex-colonies around the world and how their development was hindered as a result of European exploitation. However, I never stopped to think and ask the obvious question – the same question Yali posed to Diamond – why was it that Europe colonised Africa, Asia, America and Australia rather than the reverse?

And so recently, while going through some old stuff, I stumbled upon this book again. But instead of dismissing it as my 17-year-old self did, my interest was piqued. I then spent the next 5 weeks diving my nose between the pages of this fine depository of knowledge. Which brings us to today and my review of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

The entire premise of Guns, Germs, and Steel is to the answer Yali’s question:

Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have little cargo of our own?

Diamond attempts to answer this fundamental question by giving his readers a multi-disciplinary crash course in history. I found the chapters dedicated to evolutionary biology and linguistics to be incredibly exhilarating. Diamond doesn’t hang about and cuts straight to the ultimate cause of global disparities in development: geography.

People that were lucky enough to find themselves in the ideal geographical location for development would be the ones that rose to prominence. By virtue of their location, they would develop the most Guns (weapons), Germs (diseases), and Steel (technology). Those unlucky enough to draw the short straw would be doomed to be conquered by the lucky ones. Thereby undermining the archaic belief that Europeans came to dominate the world because of some inherent superiority in the European people themselves but rather by luck of the draw.

I expect that if the populations of Aboriginal Australia and Eurasia could have been interchanged during the Late Pleistocene, the original Aboriginal Australians would be the ones occupying most of the Americas and Australia, as well as Eurasia, while the original Aboriginal Eurasians would be the ones now reduced to downtrodden population fragments in Australia.

Diamond does an excellent job explaining complicated concepts in simple terms so that a layman like me can understand. After finishing his book, I really feel that my knowledge of global history has been broadened. I now have a bunch of new facts that I can bore family and friends with. For instance: did you know that of the 148 species of mammal weighing over 100 pounds, only 14 have been domesticated – 13 of which were domesticated in Eurasia alone! This undoubtedly gave Eurasians a considerable advantage over people in other continents. On the whole, Eurasia was the best continent for human development for a myriad of reasons that Diamond explains in his book.

One critique often cited against Guns, Germs, and Steel is that it overgeneralises. However, I would argue that this is an inevitability for a book which aims to pack 13,000 years of human history into around 400 pages. This book seeks to outline the overall trends in human history. Not give an in-depth study of every little detail of every single decision made by humans across the world. That would be near impossible. Instead, Guns, Germs, and Steel serves as a great entry point for people interested in studying history. Part Four: Around the World in Six Chapters acts as a great stepping stone for this very purpose. Furthermore, Diamond also includes nearly 30 pages of recommended further reading.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the social sciences. Its multi-disciplinary approach makes it useful for almost any field. No matter your intellectual background or goal, you will find something new and exciting in this book, which will add to your future discoveries.