A great book about the history of technology
and about why the world is as it is.
The key question that Jared Diamond seeks to answer is "Why is it that European civilization conquered the other civilization, and why didn't it happen the other way round ?"
The answer is basically "technology", but this only begs the question. For the author, the reason is that some civilizations had a head start on others, because they developed centralized agricultural states (and iron and writing and other tech) much earlier than others.
The book establishes a "baseline" moment, when all the men on Earth had more or less the same technological level: this is fixed at 11.000 BC. After that, divergent fortunes.
The reasons of the head start, again, boil down to luck: the author shows how some areas had the good fortune of having both good climate (for a fairly elastic definition of good) and a good starter set of wild species that lent themselves to domestication. The luckiest ones, apparently, were the Mesopotamians that got the wild ancestors of wheat, chickpeas, flax, barley, cows, goats, pigs and other terribly useful species. Close seconds where the Chinese.
Contrast that with the Central America, where the starter set was only the somewhat difficult to select corn, turkey, amaranth, beans and no large pack animal.
This is a very good book, and it will make you think. It could be said that Diamond downplays the importance that culture had in certain historical moments (I am thinking of the strain of Greek rationalism that gave Romans their laws, survived thanks to the Arabs and finally blossomed into the Renaissance and ultimately gave us science and philosophy), and that it fails to answer certain questions, for example "why didn't the Chinese conquer the planet ?": nonetheless, this technological/economical perspective is certainly a stimulating one, and a welcome counterbalance to idealism.