Guns, Germs, and Steel

Another post about Diamond…

Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, is a Pulitzer prize winning book, which sets out to explain what has made some civilisations thrive, and to answer the question of why civilisations based in Europe came to dominate the world. Published in 1998 it was followed in 2005 by a short documentary series aired on PBS produced by the National Geographic Society.
Superior weaponry was the result of positive feedback effects.

In his book and now in the three part documentary series, Jared Diamond explains the development of human civilisations on the basis of “Guns, Germs and Steel”. The basic premise is that it isn’t a difference between the peoples that has lead to the dominance of particular civilisations, but rather down to the circumstances of geography.

Geography explains the ‘success’ of European civilisations, being blessed with crops, livestock and ideas not available in other parts of the world. One example being the East-West axis of Europe and Asia allows farming to rapidly spread because of similarities in climate, in contrast to the North-South axes of the Americas and Africa.

Europeans had access to many large animals that were not only important as as a source of food and as beasts of burden. Living in close proximity with animals increased the development of infections (germs and virii viruses.) which the population would develop a natural resistance to. When these populations come into contact it results in the decimation of the population which doesn’t have this protection. This was a major influence in the colonisation of the Americas, and also Malaria has prevented the colonisation much of Africa and Asia by Europeans. Not only the Europeans themselves but also their farming techniques and livestock being unsuitable for tropical regions.

Europeans had superior technology, because of the large number of specialists in their societies.

The questions posed by the book are answered in detail and a very nice overview is given of different civilisations in the world. A major disappointment for me is that I wanted to hear a lot more about the importance of steel in world history. Since the title contains ‘steel’ I was looking forward to hearing about advancements in metallurgy, however there is very little about specific technologies.

Jared Diamond´s latest book discusses the collapse of human civilisations. You can see Jared Diamond’s lecture in which he discusses some of the factors that caused civilizations of the past to collapse and what we can learn from their fates.

The PBS website has a large amount of material to accompany the TV series, Guns, Germs, and Steel: Home.

The books, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse are available from Amazon as well as other books from Jared Diamond.


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