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Jeff Greenfield, Journalist, once said, “There are good people who are dealt a bad hand by fate, and bad people who live long, comfortable, privileged lives. A small twist of fate can save or end a life; random chance is a permanent, powerful player in each of our lives, and in human history as well.” Jared Diamond’s book, Guns Germs and Steel, illustrates this quote in many different ways. Diamond’s book goes over all of human history for the last 13,000 years, and makes a bold attempt to explain why human history unraveled how it did.
In this effort, he attempts to break down all the racist ideologies people have had about human history, and give it a better explanation than what people have had in the past.
Diamond’s main argument is that geography, plays a huge role in the evolution of human societies. He helps argue his point by employing the use of several rhetorical strategies such as logos, and imagery.
He sets his main point up by slowly going back into time, analyzing many important events in history such as conquering empires, the domestication of different plants and animals, and the simple discoveries of different tools and technologies; as well as including detailed tables and information about such animals and plants. Diamond goes over and analyzes many different geographical locations, as well as the people, plants, and animals located in them. Though he looks at many different places, there is one that seems to be head and shoulders above the rest.
Located in Eurasia, and nicknamed “the birthplace of agriculture,” Diamond describes the Fertile Crescent as the best geographical location that human societies developed and evolved in. The way Diamond proves this theory is by describing the kinds of advantages Eurasia, has over other places in the world.
Diamond describes multiple different areas where Eurasia proves to be better than another area, for instance, the domesticable plants and animals in a region. He goes into an extensive amount of detail as to why the domestication of animals and plants brought forth the victories different nations and peoples had over their competition. Diamond also makes the argument of, the way continents are laid out. That being the east-west axis, and north-south axis. Normally, this wouldn’t be the kind of thing an everyday person would think much of. But as Diamond reveals through his book, it’s one of the key reasons why Eurasia was so much better off than other places, like the Americas. With those two arguments as well, Diamond also goes into the idea of how human societies and social groups, impacted the way germs, diseases and such, worked on a nation as a whole.
Overall, Diamond dives deep into the idea of human history. He challenges many different ideologies that today’s societies hold true and dear in their hearts; gives excellent, well crafted responses and reasons as to how and why human history unfolded the way it did. Although Diamond may not be a historian, the amount of dedication, time and work that Diamond has poured into this book should deem it credible to any person who reads it.
Diamond was born in 1937, this means that he had been growing up near the end of World War II. Now since he had been living in America, this didn’t affect him greatly. Although, it did spark thoughts and ideas in him later in his life. As Diamond describes it, the experience of the war for him was, “second hand.” Through different maps and radios, he learned about the war. This, helped influence his love of geography, and history.
As Diamond was growing up, he went to school at Roxbury Latin School. During those years he found out that he loved science, biology and more specifically, studying birds. After he graduated from Roxbury, he went on to attend college at Harvard. At Harvard, he reasoned with himself that he’d be practicing science for the rest of his life, so he decided to take courses unrelated to science, such as the history of the American Revolution. After he graduated from Harvard, he went on to attend the University of Cambridge in Europe, to obtain his doctorate. He spent most of his time there traveling Europe and meeting new people. When he returned to the United States in 1962, he continued his work in Laboratory Physiological Research.
But in 1964, Diamond decided to take a summer trip to New Guinea, which would ultimately be the staging ground for his second career. While there, he met a New Guinea politician named Yali. Yali asked Diamond the important question of, “Why is it that you white people deve;p[ed so much more cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” (pg 14) This question puzzled Diamond, and thus he set out to answer it in the best way possible. Essentially, this question encouraged and influenced Diamond to write arguably his most famous book, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Throughout his book, Diamond talked about a plethora of different ways the world unraveled the way it did, and he used just as many different rhetorical strategies. But overall, Diamond’s main argument to his reasoning is the geographical location that a civilization will begin to conquer, and develop in. Diamond describes the best possible location for this, is to be the Fertile Crescent, on account of its wide range of domesticable plants and animals that inhabit it. Diamond also delves into the argument of, the east and west, and north south axis of a country, and how that it can greatly affect the migration of peoples, foods, and germs. With germs in mind, Diamond also describes how germs affected different groups of people. He argues most of his points by appealing to the “logos” or, “logistics” of a reader, but he does it very effectively.
Now, let’s go back and begin to unpack Diamond’s main overall argument of, why the Fertile Crescent is the absolute best location for a group of people to begin developing. This place has been nicknamed, “the birth of agriculture” for good reason. In the area that the Crescent is located in, is also the home to Mollisol soil, arguably the most nutrient rich, highly organic soil in the world. With this rich soil, the Fertile Crescent became the origin point for major crops, such as emmer wheat, barlley, flax, peas, and many other different species of plants.
The Fertile Crescent is also home to many different species of animals. But what’s different about these animals, is that many of them were domesticable. This allowed people to use them for more sources of food, clothing and tools. They way Diamond persuades his readers to believe in his side, is to bring forth large amount of logos through his writing. His main objective in this section is to appeal to the reader’s logistics, and he does that by giving the reader the following information. Diamond shows us the drastic difference in domesticable animals in different countries around the world. On page 156 in Guns Germs and Steel, you can find a table containing the following information. Diamond showed us the amount of candidates for a domesticable animals in the Americas, and there were 24 different animals that met Diamond’s requirements. (The requirements being pretty simple) Out of the 24 animals, only 1 has been domesticated, bringing the Americas to a 4% domesticated animal rate. Diamond also shows us the same statistics for Sub-Saharan Africa. The amount of animals that met his requirements were 52, over doubled than that of the Americas. But, none of those animals have been domesticated. Yet, Diamond also includes Eurasia’s statistics. Eurasia has 72 animals that meet his requirements, tripled that of the Americas. Out of those 72, 24 of the animals have been domesticated. The information that Diamond gives us here is extremely persuasive, and heavily appeals to a reader’s logic side.
In chapter 10 of Guns Germs and Steel, Diamond says, “Some areas that are ecologically very suitable for food production never acquired it in prehistoric times at all, even though areas of prehistoric food production existed nearby.” (pg 170) In the Americas, there is plenty of fertile land for farming, But, we haven’t many signs of farming until after Colonists started conquering the Americas. But in Europe, farming can be traced back to as far as 12,000 B.C. One explanation Diamond gives for this, is the North South, East West Axis of the countries. In Eurasia farming was huge, it was the number 1 main source of food for people in that area, as opposed to the hunter gatherer lifestyles of those peoples in the Americas, who lived on a diet of different animals and scavengable food in the form of plants. But if you look at the axis of each of those countries, you can find that they are complete opposites. In Eurasia, the axis stretched from east to west, while in the Americas it stretched from the North to the South. Putting that information to the side for now, Diamond describes one of the main reasons that the Americas didn’t have farming was, there were no crops to farm with and survive off of there. But, Europe had all these crops.
Why? The rotation of the continents, is why. For the most part, the climate is similar across Europe from East to West, and doesn’t change much. This allows plants to spread faster, because they don’t have to spend so much time adapting and evolving to different climates of different regions. In the Americas, the main rotation is from North to South. Meaning, at the top of the line, you have places like Canada, which has a drastically different climate than the places at the bottom of the line, such as Brazil and Peru. The plants indigenous to both of those regions, have adapted and evolved to be perfect for those regions. So if you move them to say America, it’s likely those plants would die and be much harder to farm in general. But in Europe, you have a relatively consistent climate from east to west, allowing the spread of plants to be much easier.
Diamond proves this theory, and appeals to the logos of his readers by giving us facts on the spread of plants. From Southwest Asia, to Europe and Egypt, plants spread at a rate of 0.7 miles a year. But if you look at the statistics in the Americas, you can find that the spread of plants from say Mexico to the United States, plants spread at an average rate of less than 0.3 miles a year. The facts Diamond gives here can be very persuasive towards the readers, and are easy to understand and believe. Throughout his book, it is very easy to find that his main writing style and argument style comes from the Logic and Facts of things. It’s how he gets people on his side, but he does it very well.
Another argument Diamond talks about in his book, is the effect of farming on different groups of people. Diamond describes that societies of people that develop farming, tend have a bigger, more dense population, as compared to that of a hunter-gatherer group of peoples. With having a dense population, the peoples of that population are able to build up a better immune system to defend themselves from diseases. Diamond paints a picture for his readers in chapter 3 of Guns Germs and Steel. He describes the collision of the Inca Empire, and the Spaniard Empire. Way back in those times, the Inca were mostly made up of hunter-gatherers, while on the opposite extreme, the Spaniards had developed dense farming societies in Europe. What Diamond wrote in his book, essentially summed up farming to be a crucial aid in helping build a more organized community in different peoples. With this is mind, it allowed farming societies to create basic “jobs” or responsibilities in their societies, as well as helping lead to the creation of weapons for those groups. Diamond uses imagery to describe what happened between the Inca and the Spaniards, and ultimately how the Spaniards won their battle. The Spaniards were able to conquer an army of 80,000 men, with only 168 soldiers. The main reason the Spaniards won, was their technological advantage. Diamond uses imagery to help show what kind of weapons and tools the Spaniards had over the Inca, and why they even won their battle. The Spaniards were a farming society, who had developed much greater and stronger weapons than the Incas, earlier than they did, Diamond describes farming and agriculture to be the reason why.
It proved to be difficult to find articles that have decided against Diamond’s ideas and such in Guns Germs and Steel. Through this process, I’ve learned that most arguments are not made against the reasons Diamond gives in his book, but rather arguments against small minor details, or things unrelated to the basic premise of his book. What I’ve found, is that some people are upset with Diamond for “implying” that different wars or genocides were caused by geography, and that the people who conducted said atrocities are innocent. But Diamond, responds to this with the difference between understanding something, and justifying something. Diamond wants to understand why these things occured, but many people have taken this as Diamond trying to justify different atrocities.
In another article titled, Jared Diamond: Against History, the writer Jason Antrosio’s argues that Jared Diamond explained human history incorrectly. He says, “Jared Diamond has done a huge disservice to the telling of human history. He has tremendously distorted the role of domestication and agriculture in that history.” Through most of his article, Antrosio just references what other people have said and shows little effort to make an argument of his own. The basic premise that Antrosio shows his readers is that Diamond described the conquering of the Americas incorrectly. He essentially says, that Diamond never talked about the allied groups of natives that the European Conquistadors encountered when they were taking over the Americas. On the page this article is located on, there is a message board where you can comment your feelings on the article you’ve read. This comment board, is riddled with people who disagree with Antrosio’s argument. These arguments, even more so break down his feeble argument. Overall, Antrosio shows little effort in creating his own argument for Guns Germs and Steel, and often uses other people’s arguments to help himself.
Jared Diamond’s book has been bought and read by millions of people, even Mitt Romney calls it one of his favorite books. Diamond recaps the last 13,000 years of human history, describing the ways that different societies were built up to be the biggest and best, while others crumbled. Diamond argues using beautifully crafted arguments to convey his very compelling and truthful points to his readers. He carefully explains why he believes geography is the main reason human history unfolded the way it did, and gives excellent, well thought out arguments to why his position should be taken over other’s. Diamond employs the rhetorical strategies of appealing to his readers logos, and using detailed imagery to describe his points. He gives many different statistics on different points throughout his book, and provides multiple graphs to help reinforce his arguments. Overall, Guns Germs and Steel is one of those “must read” books. It will help change your perspective on human history for the better.
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