For This book was originally printed in 1997, with

For
our last project of the semester, I chose to read the book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared
Diamond. This book was originally printed in 1997, with a new afterword
presented in 2003 to reflect the economy and geopolitics of the time. In the
book, Jared discusses topics about why certain societies and people throughout
history have survived and advanced their cultures, while others could not adapt,
and their civilizations ceased to exist. In this essay I will argue for Diamond’s
main point in Germs, Guns, And Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, that the
reason some societies have thrived and survived because of where they located
geographically, and not because they were smarter than other societies.

In
the prologue of the book Guns, Germs and
Steel, Diamond talks about one of his friends of New Guinea, Yali, who
asked him an interesting question. Yali asked, “Why is it that you white people
developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had
little cargo of our own?”1 In other words, why have
European societies became so successful when it comes to technology,
economically and militarily compared to other societies who have not had as
much success.

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This
question by Yali became the central theme and the reason for Diamond to write Guns, Germs, and Steel. In the first
part of the book, Diamond discusses how the first humans appeared in Africa,
and after a period of time, migrated out to the rest of the world in search of
food. Then, around 11,000 years ago, a major milestone in human history,
someone came up with the idea of agriculture. Agriculture is one of the main
reasons why certain societies flourished, while others could not grow in
numbers and thus were either taken over by larger societies, or just died out. Diamond
goes on to explain how by the 15th century, there were enormous
differences between societies spread throughout the world, he uses an example
of the meeting between Francisco Pizzaro, a Spanish conquistador, and Atahuallpa,
the emperor of the Incan Civilization. Even though Pizzaro only had a few
hundred men compared to the tens of thousands of Incans, he was able to capture
and kill Atahuallpa because of superior military technology.

Part
Two of Guns, Germs, and Steel delves
into how agriculture arose in some areas of the world, but not all. The first
known areas of agriculture, which were determined by using carbon-dating, were
the Fertile Crescent, which is today’s Middle East, Mesoamerica, and in China.
At this point in human history, most societies were ones made up of hunter
gatherers, people who would hunt their food and would pick berries and nuts for
their diet. Living as a hunter gather was not easy though, and people began to
look for ways of different food production. People began planting only the
biggest seeds, which resulted in crops being formed to harvest. The domestication
of animals also began around the same time, with familiar animals such as the
cow, dog and the horse. With the help of these domesticated animals, humans
were then able to cultivate their crops more efficiently, yielding more and
more crops. Plant domestication arose in these three areas first because of the
soil condition, the availability of domesticated animals, and the availability
of crops that humans could actually eat. A key point that Diamond makes in this
section of the book is that he believes that ideas, such as agriculture, and
domesticating animals, spreads more easily on an east-west axis, apposed to a
north-south axis. This is because locations on an east-west axis share a
relatively similar climate, making it easier for plants and animals to adapt to
new locations, as opposed to moving north or south.

Guns, Germs, and Steel’s
third part discusses how differences in societies ways of agriculture expanded throughout
time, and that these differences lead to variances in those societies health, the
technology they had, and their social structure. Diamond explains how people became
immune to serious diseases such as smallpox. When people are in constant
contact with domesticated animals, along with an increase in population size,
they were in constant contact with germs. With this constant contact with
germs, many societies developed immunity to a lot of diseases which were common
and caused many epidemics. The people who were not immune would die out, and
only those with the immunity would live on, passing on the immunity to their
children.

            Another factor for the advancement of civilizations that
began to experiment with agriculture was the development of the written
language. Diamond goes back to his theory of an east-west dominant diffusion
pattern, that once a society developed a written language, alongside
agriculture, it would spread outwards, especially along the same latitude.

            Once societies began to have a steady supply of crops
thanks to improved agriculture, their population numbers would increase over
time. This lead to developments of bands or small tribes. They would grow their
numbers over time by either conquering other people or by an agreement to live
among one another. As civilizations were grew larger and larger, a need for a
centralized government of leadership became more apparent. These large societies
would then become a kleptocracy, which means that leaders would require their subjects
to give a portion of their possessions.

            In the final part of Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, he looks at various case studies that
support his theories that he stated throughout. He first references how the New
Guineans developed agriculture, relatively supplicated technology, and a
centralized government, compared to their neighbors in Australia. New Guineans
were able to stave off European colonization for a long period of time because
of their ability to develop agricultural skills, which lead to them being
fairly resistant to most diseases that Europeans brought with them.

            Diamond ends the book summing up with his theory that societies
around the world have survived and advanced throughout history because of their
geographic location and ability to develop agriculture, and not because one
race is more intelligent than some other race. Agricultural societies had large
advantages of non-agricultural ones, which led them to either take over said
non-agricultural people or they would simply die off.

             I believe that
Diamond is very clear with what his main goal of the book is, he wants to
answer the question asked to him by his friend Yali. Why are some people more
advanced in today’s world? There are many societies that are extremely wealthy
and have modern technology and more powerful, while other societies who seem to
be closely related to the well-off societies, are very poor, have very basic
technology and have virtually no power in the world. However confident Diamond
is about his theory of why certain civilizations advanced and thrived,
scientists still are not entirely sure where and when exactly when modern
humans first emerged. He presents human history as a record of how we interact
with our environment and how we use resources to create tools and make fire.

One
would think that because modern humans emerged in Africa, that it would be the
most powerful continent, but as Diamond states, because their main axis is north-south
it is harder for agriculture to spread across differing temperature zones. Diamond
does not however present a clear explanation of why certain regions become more
advanced, which could lead to a regional bias, in that each region could say
they are the best for any number of reasons.

When
Diamond is discussing how Pizzaro was able to conquer the Incan emperor along
with the entire civilization he does not mention how Pizzaro is basically
committing a genocide against the Incan people. Diamond is able to keep out moral
judgements, and just tell the facts of what happens. He goes on to say that
Pizzaro was able to accomplish this, even with a far inferior number of men
because of his access to far superior military technology such as horses, metal
swords, and guns. Pizzaro even had an unknown advantage over the Incans, his European
immunity to certain diseases, thus killing off a large population through
sickness.

1 1.
Jared M Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New
York: Norton, 2005), 14.

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