I’m assuming, when you say “recent anthropological scholarship” you’re not talking about Guns, Germs and Steel, given that the book was published in 1997. That might be a legitimate critique of Collapse, though, I’m not sure. It’s also possible that Diamond’s gone off his gourd since I got out of college.
So, for the uninitiated, this is kind of how academia works. Someone publishes a thing, and then everyone else dog piles on to tear it apart and look for it’s flaws. The more prominent the literature, the bigger the dog pile. The further it is from the field’s norm, the more savage the critiques.
If I’m completely honest, I actually tend to forget that Guns, Germs and Steel is supposed to be an anthropology text. To me, it’s always read more like a (sharp) criticism of Huntington’s civilizations model. Stopping just short of actually calling Huntington a racist by name.
And, as a result, I’m not surprised at all that Diamond drives mainstream anthropologists absolutely nuts. He’s taking the study of people, and then ignoring the role of people in social development.
That’s a big part of what Jason Antrosio (the author behind Living Anthropologically) seems to be taking issue with.
He does make a few good points, though. Diamond is prone to making sweeping generalizations. I’ll take it over something like Michael Walzer’s horrifying attention to minutiae, paragraphs that never stop, and pathological fear of footnotes. But, this is one of those, endless debates, between providing enough information without providing too much. As writers all of us should be familiar with that dilemma.
By definition, Guns, Germs and Steel is incredibly deterministic, which is one of Antrosio’s points. It’s a valid. Philosophically, the book is sort of saying that individuals are meaningless in the grand scheme of human development. That factors like the distribution of physical resources, actually shape a culture. But, I’m not sure I buy Antrosio’s claim that this somehow reveals a deep failing in Diamond’s work, especially given what the book was reacting to.
So, why am I recommending Diamond? Because he’s accessible.
For your writing, having a coherent world model you can build and tear apart is invaluable. Also, because of the deterministic qualities, it provides you with a racially agnostic system. Now, that probably doesn’t mesh with how you view the world, but when you’re building a world from scratch, it can be immensely useful.
If you’re never going into anthropology, the issues with his work probably won’t matter (though, obviously, that’s a point of debate). If you are, then you’ll have professors who will show you the error of your ways, they’re used to doing that. So, I’m still inclined to say Diamond’s a resource point, even if he isn’t perfect.