Guns Germs and Steel Chapter Summary

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Prologue: Yali’s Question
Jared Diamond has done extensive field work in New Guinea.  His indigenous New Guinean politician friend Yali asked why whites had been so successful and arrived with so much "cargo" compared to the locals.  Diamond rephrases this question: why did white Eurasians dominate over other cultures by means of superior guns, population-destroying germs, steel, and food-producing capability?  Diamond’s main thesis is that this occurred not because of racial differences in intelligence, etc. but rather because of environmental differences.  He wishes to play down Eurocentric thinking and racist explanations because they are loathsome and wrong.  Modern Stone Age peoples "are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples."  New Guineans are "more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is", traits which he attributes to survival of the fittest.  Proper analysis of the current standing of various human societies must trace developments beginning before the onset of historical record. Matyash 2

Part 1: From Eden to Cajamarca
Chapter 1: Up to the Starting Line:
This chapter discusses the “great leap forward” or the extension of humankind beyond Africa. Did being in some location earlier give those peoples an advantage over later settlers? Africa had an enormous time advantage. However, humans, once they came to a continent, spread and adapted quickly to conditions. The Great Leap Forward was also important because without the evolution of cave paintings and stone tools, the society that we live in would be exceedingly different. Chapter 2: A Natural Experiment of History

The Polynesians constitute a small-scale test of how environment determines the path of society. Between 1200 BC and 500 AD, Polynesians scattered over thousands of Pacific Islands with great variety of area, isolation, elevation, climate, productivity, and resources. The original Polynesians already had the same elements that were used, when possible, throughout the area: animals and plants supplemented by hunting lands, for example, are too cold, to support farming of the typical crops. They are small and isolated and could only support a small population of hunter-gatherers. They had no surplus to support non-hunting craftsmen, armies, or bureaucrats. With nowhere to go they learned to resolve conflicts peacefully. The Maoris, in contrast, lived on the northern island of New Zealand. This is the largest Polynesian island and was suitable for agriculture. In addition, it had supplies of metal. Populations grew dense and chronically engaged in warfare with neighbors. Matyash 3

Chapter 3: Collision at Cajamarca
Diamond details the conquest by Francisco Pizarro and a few hundred men over the Inca emperor Atahualpa at Cajamarca Peru in 1532, by means of superior steel weapons and armor, horses and cavalry, new diseases, technology, early guns, writing facilitating better communication, and centralized political organization.  These however were only the proximate causes leading to the conquest--what allowed such a dominant culture to develop in the first place? Was it the fact that they were so advanced with their new equipment? I think that there was more to Pizarro that we have learned about yet which holds the answer as to why they were so dominant. Part II: The Rise and Spread of Food Production

Chapter 4: Farmer Power
Throughout the book, Diamond emphasizes the importance of development of "food production", a term he uses to encompass the domestication of wild animals and plants and their improvement for human purposes through selection of favorable mutations, etc.  He describes the benefits of animal domestication and herding over hunter-gathering. I think that for the time period for which he is studying, having animal domestication and herding is a really good idea....
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