The author Jared Diamond in the book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies writes that the alternative title for his book would probably be a short history about everyone for the last 13,000 years. This topic will explain the author’s main argument as well as cite a passage where he states his points clearly. We will also give two proximate and two ultimate factors to support his claims, ending with an evaluation of his main argument. It should be noted that the main argument the author brings forward in this book has been mentioned quite well in the preface the rest of the book merely acts as a supplement to his main idea.
The main argument in this book is summed up clearly in the following question: “Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way? For instance, why weren’t Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians? ” (Diamond p. 13-32,1999) He explains this by saying that the advancements in culture in the European and Asian continents are not due to their moral, intellectual or genetic superiority. Rather the gaps in development are mostly due to the geographical advantages each race had.
He says that the earliest civilizations were hunter-gatherers before they eventually developed a system of agriculture. This of course leads to the production of food surpluses such supports larger populations and in effect a larger population necessitates a division of labor. This leads to large societies with ruling classes and supporting classes which in turn becomes a ruling organization. He explains two Ultimate factors which lead civilizations down this path, a large east/west axis and easily domestic able food and animals.
“There were also great differences in the completeness with which suites of crops and livestock spread, again implying stronger or weaker barriers to their spreading” (Diamond p. 176-192, 1999). He says that the early advantages of finding suitable plants to grow and domesticated animals helped certain cultures advance further than others. Genetically geographical areas decide whether certain crops will be wild or domesticated. It also decides the animals that will inhabit the area.
“Most of the wild species from which our crops were derived vary genetically from area to area, because alternative mutations had become established among; wild ancestral populations of different areas”. (Diamond pg 176-192, 1999) For example the Middle East had the best collection of plants and animals suitable for domestication. And as they began to trade they found the importance of using horses and donkeys as transport. In contrast in Africa they had to contend with growing wild plants such as sorghum and yams. Animals such as zebras could not be domesticated and those animals which flourished in one area could not survive in the other.
“South Africa’s Mediterranean climate would have been ideal for them, but the 2,000 miles of tropical conditions between Ethiopia and South Africa posed an insuperable barrier”. (Diamond pg 176-192, 1999) He also says that the east-west axis is certain countries were essential to the advancements of their societies through trade. While the north-south axis of certain countries such as Africa promoted slow diffusion. The title of this book sums up the two proximate factors that lead to the dominance of the Eurasian races and the displacement and subjugation of the Africans, Native Americans and Aborigines.
In terms of germs the Eurasians increasing levels of trade and use of livestock increased the number of pathogens they were exposed to forcing immunity among their populace. When they met the indigenous tribes of South America these diseases dwindled their populations to a point where the Europeans could subjugate them. “As a result, over the course of history, human populations repeatedly exposed to a particular pathogen have come to consist of a higher proportion of individuals with those genes for resistance–just because unfortunate individuals without the genes were less likely to survive to pass their genes on to babies” (Diamond p. 195-214, 1999).
The technological progress of these people also depended on food production. The increasing organizational systems and trade with other areas provided them with the tools to develop a writing system of their own. This writing system was essential to the continued technological development of societies. “Here we have to remind ourselves that the vast majority of societies with writing acquired it by borrowing it from neighbors or by being inspired by them to develop it, rather than by independently inventing it themselves” (Diamond p. 215-238, 1999).
After reading this book I found myself agreeing with many of the author’s contentions about our history. It is difficult to conceive that the history of human civilization was decided even before it births. However the argument the author provides not only for the agricultural advancements but also in terms of geopolitical advancements seem as true as they are simple to understand. If I had to point out one fault it would be that the author speaks of competing civilizations in terms of continents rather than individual societies.
It is unreasonable to me that all the societies on a continent would follow a singular goal of increasing their footprint upon the earth. Additionally he does not adequately expand his theory to include the society of ancient Egypt, which despite its geographical commonality through several decades managed to go through several periods of dominance and subjugation. However, the book itself is an essential read when taken as a viable theory of the history of human civilization. References Diamond, J. M. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
Courtney from Study Moose
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