Guns Germs and Steel

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Guns Germs and Steel

Yali asked the question of “why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had so little cargo of our own?” (Diamond 14) In other words, he is asking “what is the factor between our people and ours that causes human development to proceed at different rates?” (Diamond 16) What Yali is really asking though, is, what is this mysterious factor? According to Diamond, the basis for development is the environment around us including the resources and the native people of New Guinea don’t live in an area where a chance is provided for them to take advantage of. The natural resources are just enough for them to get by. This is why the people of New Guinea produce so little “cargo” of their own.

Pizarro’s capture of Atahuallpa and destruction of the Incas made the Europeans realize what power they head, and what they could do to the rest of the world. They easily wiped out the Inca’s of 80,000 with 168 men. From the Battle of Cajamarca, Pizzaro came back to Charles I saying that Europe had the power to conquer the Americas. There were reasons Pizarro and the Europeans could conquer the Americas… They had better warfare than the Incas. Pizarro’s men had armor rode horseback and used steel compared to their wooden weapons.

Eurasia happened to have an abundance of edible material because of the right environment leading to the domestication of plants and animals led the people to settle down in one place instead of being nomads. When people started to settle down and bring the food to them, they started to have a surplus which led for the people to have extra jobs and it started to also support a higher population while allowing women to have more children contributing to job specialization. These specialists were not devoted to farmers or food producers but varied to priests, blacksmiths etc. Permanent agriculture societies were able to from with the food surpluses leading to empires.

Some of the reason that people began to settle down and farm are because at the time many wild foods began to decrease due to hunters and gatherers killing off too many large animals leaving life unsustainable. More wild
plants that could be domesticated became available at the time. Technological advances allowe3d people to harvest and store greater amounts of food that they cultivated. Human populations rose it’s not clear how much it caused food production and how much food production caused it but researchers believe there’s a connection. As populations rose, they needed to have better food supplies and started farming. The farm societies were able to drive out neighboring hunter-gatherers.

A continent with long east-west axis like (Eurasia) has an advantage over continents with long north-south axes (like Africa and the Americas). The reasons it does have to do with crops and longitude. In general similar crops can grow at similar longitudes. In other words a cropped that developed in one place can be spread east to west (or west to east) but less likely to spread north and south. Epidemic diseases developed among the societies that had been farming the longest. These were Eurasian societies. Societies in the Americas, Australia, and other places had not been farming as long and lacked epidemic diseases. When Europeans came in contact with Native Americans, for example, European epidemic diseases killed huge percentages of the Native Americans. This helped the Europeans conquer and the conquest made them richer and more powerful. Therefore germs help to answer Yali’s question. The societies that did independently invent writing were those with complex hierarchies and sophisticated systems of food production. Writing was needed for politics and was generally learned by bureaucrats who had the comfort of available time and energy. As food was available to them, they had no need to hunt and gather for themselves. Since their basic needs were being met, they could focus on a higher level of existence and communication. There are two conditions in which technology may develop. The first is “mother necessity ideology” which is when a society needs something to make things easier they invent it. Technology differed from place to place because there were more people to invent and better diffusion to spread the invention. The opposite happened in the Americas because there were less people and a slower diffusion rate. Also different cultures had different ideas for change.

The only way that society can emerge is through food. Such developments
include jobs, such as the chief and the beginnings of government. The institutions of society changed over time based on how organized they were. They evolved based around various factors like war and other societies. They are related by diffusion. Whenever a state is conquered by another state they enforce use of their technology or exploit it. States are going to develop weapons, troops, and religion in order to make the state survive. They develop in response to need of their population size. They use these agents of conquest to become larger and to conquer other societies; and for that they need guns, germs, and steel.

What Diamond is saying is that he thinks that people really should not think that history is so much different from the sciences. He is saying that the study of history can be pretty “scientific” if it is done correctly (and that some sciences are not as precise as things like chemistry). Diamond is trying to argue that historians should use what he calls “natural experiments.” He thinks that there are many “experiments” where there are two or more places that are pretty similar in many ways but which then turned out differently (like his experiment in Chapter 2). He argues that historians can use these — they can look at what was different and what was similar and how the differences led to the differences in the outcomes.

Guns, Germs, and Steel Book Review

I think Diamond’s central intent of writing the book is to explain how varying societies become dominate, and how certain others can become dominated. By looking at environmental conditions that caused the disparities that lead to certain societies developing guns, germs, and steel, including other technology, and forming a government necessary for conquest. He introduced the book with Yali’s question “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people has so little cargo of our own?” This question used a scientific/geographic background, and set his intent is to answer the question or inform how to answer the question. He also tries to analyze the causes of the expansion of civilizations’ in some parts of the world, since all people are physically the same what could cause some to be successful
and others to die? He used archaeological and historical case studies and evidence from genetics and linguistics, he argued that technological and gaps in power are not caused by race or culture differences but by environmental differences, He used the idea of the axis as one saying that Eurasia had an east to west (or west to east) therefore having an advantage over Africa or the Americas for instance, because crops could grow at the same longitude but it was more difficult as they went north and south. Also when cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians like for example written language or resistance to epidemic diseases he says these advantages occurred because of the influence and geography on societies and cultures and were not inherited as genes from Eurasian ancestors. Diamond’s book argues that the differences in progress for different societies around the world do not result from one group being smarter or more resourceful than another. Rather, he focuses on the impact of geography — whether food and other key items were plentiful, whether and how disease spread, and how these developments led to different levels of industrialization, and wealth The book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” was very well written in the sense that Diamond had a question in which was the foundation of the book, he throughout the book acquired evidence and explanations and ideas of how to answer the question. The book had evidence to back it up by explaining how Eurasia had a better opportunity being west to east meaning they had better crop farming. Which led to a growing civilization and soon conquest. The book wasn’t exactly dull or boring but it wasn’t exciting or entertaining either. It was like any other history book it asked a question, then went on to the point. There was an explanation of the main topic which was Yali’s question and evidence that dealt with answering the question. From beginning to end, Diamond stresses that he realizes that efforts to compare societies have frequently been used by racists or nationalists to belittle groups or justify mistreatment of them. He argues that his analysis is in fact anti-racism at work because it shows that the white people who enjoy the comforts of modern life are ultimately luckier than, not more deserving than, people in impoverished nations.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 7 July 2016

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