Major Themes of Guns, Germs, and Steel
As Jared Diamond examines the major factors of a great civilization after being posed by Yali’s question, he comes to an astounding realization. It is that Asians and Europeans came to be powerful not because they were smarter or better than other civilizations, but because they were luckier in terms of geography. Diamond focuses on the idea that the success of a society is not catalyzed by genetics or natural superiority, but instead by these two major themes: “The Rise of Food Production” and “The Domestication of Animals”. These two themes share a similar concept, Geographic Luck, which I will address separately. These components will later lead into the three sub-themes, two of which the book is named after: Discovery and Use of Steel, Germs and Immunity to Them, and Development of Writing.
Genetic or natural superiority are common assumptions people make that are later translated into racism. Diamond intended to use this book to help others come to the realization that race or skin color has no correlation to stature. He instead wants to inform us that we were all created equal and it was simply pure luck in our ancestor’s environments that had determined their history.
From the beginning, human beings have been adapting to the land and using it to their advantage. Early societies were hunter-gatherers and migrated, following the animals wherever they went (which was typically towards sources of water). However, as we progress through history we see societies settling down in one place and switching from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one centered on agriculture and animal domestication. As Diamond analyses two oppositely extreme regions, he notices and identifies clear advantages that successful societies had over those that developed more slowly. One of the regions he magnified and examined was the areas around the Mediterranean Sea, what is also known as the Fertile Crescent. He acknowledge that Mediterranean civilizations have a high diversity in plant and animal species, a great climatic variation from year to year, a wide range of topographies, a large number of domesticated big mammals, and a lesser number of hunter-gatherer groups present. This is seen in comparison to Australia which is described by Diamond as "by far the driest, smallest, flattest, most infertile, climatically most unpredictable, and biologically most impoverished continent.” The civilizations that inhabited these two lands evolved as opposite extremes and Diamond ascribes this as a result of different environments and geographic luck.
Another major argument Diamond makes in this book is that axis orientation matters. He takes note that Africa and the Americas are placed on a north-south axis. This is in contrast to Eurasia that spans across the east-west axis. Diamond believes that the east-west orientation allowed the trade of materials and ideas to travel much more easily amongst regions in Eurasia because all the regions across that axis shared similar climates and geographical patterns. This theory may also explain how writing, culture, and domestication of plants and animals is able to diffuse amongst vast areas. The ease of spreading across a region, however, is not the same for the societies in Africa and the Americas. The African and American civilizations had a difficult time with spread of ideas because in every new place there was a different climate pattern to adapt to or there would be a significant difference in the kinds of vegetation or animals that would have been indigenous to that area. As a result the domestication of certain animals and the harvesting of a single crop remained only in a small area.
However, despite belonging on the same axis, Europe and Asia developed at different paces. This is a point Diamond lacked in addressing. He deliberately uses the term “Eurasia” to avoid the question of why these two regions...
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