How the West was won (and the East, and the North, and the South)

The first part of National Geographic’s adaptation of Guns, Germs, and Steel was broadcast Monday, but you can catch replays of it at odd hours through this week. The program is billed as a miniseries, which for me evokes images of fading movie stars dressed in period clothes, reciting hackneyed dialogue. In this case, the program is a straightforward documentary, albeit one with flashy National Geographic cinematography and truly exotic locales.

So far they’re sticking well to the book. They kept in one of my favorite bits, regarding why people in Africa never domesticated zebras the way Eurasians did horses. (Although zebras exhibit all the other traits of domesticable creatures like social groups, herbivore diets, and short gestation periods, they have terrible tempers that make them untrainable.)

The book goes into more detail on everything than the program does. This isn’t surprising: the whole series will cover three hours while the book is 480 pages in hardcover. But I hope the series will be enough to pique the interest of some people and get them to try out the book. It’s engagingly written and not nearly as dense as you might expect, plus the subject is fascinating. It has provided me with terrific conversation fodder, and it’s even more fun to talk about with anyone who’s also read it.