I am a decade late to reading this book, first published in 1997. Better late than never. After reading Jared Diamond's brilliant Collapse, I'm now a fan.
Basically, this book maintains that environment determines how 'advanced' a culture becomes. The reason why Europe invented its technologies and economy was because their environment could help produce food surpluses, freeing up time for study and research.
Read my Suite101 book review here. Highly recommended!