What Am I Reading: Pauline Kerzerho

STIR looks into the reading habits of leading creatives - French architect Pauline Kerzerho is immersed in ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, a much relevant quarantine read, by Jared Diamond.

by STIRworld Published on : Apr 06, 2020

I do believe that modern technologies and modern education systems have brought a lot to our lives, but it should not be at the loss of some essential practical know-how about nature and basic survival. Today, living in the COVID-19 pandemic, we all are facing different levels of fear of scarcity. I feel this read is an opportunity to (re)question our lifestyle and identify our essential needs to live.

- Pauline Kerzerho, Vision and Creative Manager, Sewara Hospitality, India

‘Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies’ by Jared Diamond | What Am I Reading | Pauline Kerzerho | Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies | STIRworld
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by author Jared Diamond Image Credit: Courtesy of Pauline Kerzerho

What is the name of the book?

Pauline Kerzerho (PK): Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Who is the author?

PK: Jared Diamond (Biologist & professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles).

What is the genre?

PK: Non-fiction.

Why this book - could you please highlight its most notable aspects?

PK: The book engages us in human history through multiple aspects: agriculture, technology, education, and wealth. The author explains the evolution of civilisation from hunter-gatherer communities to our current industrialised society, with a particular focus on how the introduction of agriculture has profoundly shaped our society. He suggests how the development of agriculture allowed the population to grow more and more, which in turn facilitated faster disease transmission and spread. I read the book a few years back and I felt it is good to delve into it again in this time of pandemic, to give me a better understanding on how epidemics spread and how we have come to this unusual situation we are living in right now. It was written in 1997 but it’s so contemporary!

I read the book a few years back and I felt it is good to delve into it again in this time of pandemic, to give me a better understanding on how epidemics spread and how we have come to this unusual situation we are living in right now. It was written in 1997 but it’s so contemporary! – Pauline Kerzerho

Did you get any significant insights? Did you gain knowledge or did it help you unwind?

PK: It’s fascinating for me to understand how the evolution of each civilisation is directly influenced by climate and geography and not just by the people and/or political structures. How the domestication of animals and introduction of agriculture has allowed food security, which led to sedentarisation. Then diversification of economic activities in the population necessitated creating political structures to organise the individual and community life. The author suggests that social inequality and political instability around the globe are emerging from this sequence and not from the intelligence of the people.

The significant insight for me is the vulnerability of societies and political systems that depend on natural resources they rely on. Some of us are very conscious that climate change is impacting the ecosystem and the wealth of the planet, but it will as well threaten political stability and therefore oblige every country to adapt their governance in different manner to face this challenge.

Kerzerho caught in a moment of immersive reading | What Am I Reading | Pauline Kerzerho | Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies | STIRworld
Kerzerho caught in a moment of immersive reading Image Credit: Courtesy of Pauline Kerzerho

Is there any one thing that you would take home from the read?

PK: The author often draws a parallel between our modern societies and indigenous population in New Guinea that he studied for 30 years. Unlike the culture in which we grew up, indigenous population learn through their childhood on how to “survive” in the wild. They acquired skills and knowledge to fulfill their essential needs with what nature gave them: creating safe and comfortable shelters with local materials to sleep, recognising edible plants from venomous plants to eat, developing techniques to collect clean drinking water, understanding climate and seasons to protect themselves.

I do believe that modern technologies and modern education systems have brought a lot to our lives, but it should not be at the loss of some essential practical know-how about nature and basic survival. Today, living in the pandemic, we all face different levels of fear of scarcity. I feel this read is an opportunity to (re)question our lifestyle and identify our essential needs to live.

A table from the book that outlines different kinds of human societies: band, tribe, chiefdom and state and how each of them organised themselves in term of governance, religion etc. | What Am I Reading | Pauline Kerzerho | Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies | STIRworld
A table from the book that outlines different kinds of human societies: band, tribe, chiefdom and state and how each of them organised themselves in term of governance, religion and more Image Credit: Courtesy of Pauline Kerzerho

What is your favourite quote from the book? Why?

PK: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

Unlike the author who comes to a conclusion that “Invention is the mother of necessity”, I do believe that in the field of architecture and design “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Nowadays, modern technologies are available in abundance and have made it possible to import skills and materials from all over the world. Innovative architecture is not about integrating the latest modern technologies but rather understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the context where we build and respond to the local challenges with what we have available in situ. Far from the idea of ignoring the new technologies, in 2020, I observed it’s a big challenge for our generation of architects and designers to innovate with the local resources and indigenous techniques without getting caught up in alien solutions. 

What is your take on the book? Would you recommend it?

PK: I would surely recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand the origins of the complex world we live in. This book is like travelling around the world, billions of years earlier while sitting at home.

When do you read?

PK: In my daily work routine, I don’t dedicate particular time to reading. Since the lockdown I mostly read after lunch to take a break from work. 

Look up more such interesting reads from the series ‘What Am I Reading’ here.

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