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Mitt Romney misunderstood his book, says author Jared Diamond

August 02, 2012|by Carolyn kellogg
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado to distribute food to those affected by wild fires.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Care and Share Food… (Evan Vucci/ Associated…)

Presumed Republican candidate Mitt Romney's international tour was marked by missteps. One speech he gave at a fundraiser in Jerusalem was controversial for the figures he cited about the economic disparities between Israel and the Palestinians, and also for the conclusions he made about what that said about their cultures.

And now, the author of one of the books he referenced in that speech is speaking out. Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book "Guns, Germs and Steel," says Romney "misrepresented my views." 

First, the quote from Romney's speech:

"I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries. I read a number of books on the topic. One, that is widely acclaimed, is by someone named Jared Diamond called ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ which basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there."

In Wednesday's New York Times, Diamond writes, "That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it."

Though "Guns, Germs and Steel" leans heavily on geography, it also discusses the availability of domesticatable food sources and the way in which cultures managed disease as being essential to understanding their past,  and possibly their future.

In his OpEd piece, Diamond, who is a professor at UCLA, explains that the success of nations and peoples is determined by a complex suite of factors. "13,000 years ago, all peoples everywhere were hunter-gatherers living in sparse populations without centralized government, armies, writing or metal tools. These four roots of power arose as consequences of the development of agriculture, which generated human population explosions and accumulations of food surpluses capable of feeding full-time leaders, soldiers, scribes and inventors. But agriculture could originate only in those few regions endowed with many wild plant and animal species suitable for domestication, like wild wheat, rice, pigs and cattle," he writes. "In short, geographic explanations and cultural-institutional explanations aren’t independent of each other."

Romney has been sharing his version of Diamond's lessons for years.  The Atlantic notes that it appeared in his 2011 book "No Apology," and he'd been including similar references in speeches in 2007. Now, Diamond has decided the misinterpretation needs to be countered. 

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