Why is it that Europeans ended up conquering so much of the world? Or as Yali
puts it in the far beginning of the book, “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”? Despite all the contrary evidence from anthropology
and human biology, many persist in attributing the differing political and
economic successes of the worlds peoples to historical contingency. On the
other hand though, the author sees the fundamental causes as environmental,
resting ultimately on ecological differences between the continents and as he
well puts it on page 25: “Authors are regularly asked by journalists to
summarize a long book in one sentence. For this book, here is such a sentence:
History followed different courses for different peoples because of
differences among peoples environments, not because of biological difference
among peoples themselves.” The complex and integrated argument unfolds in four
parts, strategically constructed by questions: why have different continents and
regions developed so differently like the Maori killing the Moriori, and why did
Pizzaro capture Inca emperor Atahuallpa. The first part, “from Eden to
Cajamarca,” sketches developments on all the continents before 11000 BC. In
the second part, the author gives approximate dates on the early production of
food and explains why certain peoples developed food production whereas others
did not. Followed by the studies of why some peoples chose not to farm, why some
did not domesticate animals, and why production spread on different rates at
different continents. In part three the author argues that the settled
communities made possible by production of plant and animal food allowed
diseases to leap from domesticated animals to humans. He also links success in
food production to the inventions of writing and of technology. These he relates
also to government and religion, which he characterizes as “kleptocracy”.

After all this research and explanation the author returns to reconsider the
course of human development on each continent. Starting first with Australia and
New Guinea, then with China, Polynesia, Eurasia and the Americas and finally
Africa. Jared Diamond sees food production, or the domestication of plants and
animals, as the central key to human history. In a relatively short display
(part two), the author outlines the origins of agriculture. He describes when
and where food production originated, how it spread from the Fertile Crescent to
other parts of the world and why. There is a deep explanation about the types of
crops around the world, and a thorough description why the large seeded wild
plants in Eurasia were easy to domesticate. Eurasia had the same climate over
its long east-west axis whereas the Americas and Africa had a huge variation and
thus could not grow those kinds of plants. The characteristics of these crops
are extensively discussed, driving us, the readers, to the conclusion that food
production indeed played a major role in a material sense, mental sense, as an
agent of civilization and as a source of power. Firstly, the author argues that
ancient farmers had to develop more advanced tools for producing more amounts of
food and had the opportunity to support people that did not work in the fields,
such as politicians, warriors, priests and so on. As a result of that, farmers
became materialistically richer than hunter-gatherers who stayed in relatively
small groups, because hunters could not support people that were not able to
hunt and kill wild animals. More food available meant, and still does, more
people. More people to feed requires better technology and also soldiers to
guard, politicians to make laws, priests to have as spiritual leaders and so on.

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Through this argument we can see that new techniques were being invented and new
levels of hierarchy as well. So, in a nutshell, with food as basis the farmers
were able to first build the materials, then establish some sort of a
hierarchical system, which led to the invention of the alphabet and the rise of
major civilizations. A similar analysis is carried out for the domestication of
large mammals. Here, again, Eurasia was favored with almost all the suitable
species. The author in this particular section gives modern examples of modern
animal breeders that were not able to domesticate some wild large mammals of
Africa and justifies why ancient Africans and other peoples could not
domesticate them either. Then, he continues on to demonstrate that when large
animals such as horses became available to some of those peoples, such as the
Native Americans, they adopted them and made use of them. Guns, Germs and Steel
is a fascinating synthesis that brings together history, archaeology,
agriculture, linguistics, medicine, evolution and many other fields. We can see
that the writer starts off the book with a notable amount of frustration about
the mistaken ideas our society has come to believe: ” … objection to such
racist explanations is not just that they are loathsome, but also that they are
wrong. …evidence for the existence of human differences in intelligence… is
lacking. …modern “Stone Age” people are probably more intelligent … than
industrial peoples” (page 19). Through these strong words we can see that he
will try to convince people that there was something else holding people back
and there is not such a thing as a superior race. There are a lot of rock solid
clever arguments in this book about writing, language and how people came about
to where we stand today. Studying extensively the history of World War II,
Ive attained the belief of cause and effect and the writer describes almost
all of his arguments giving out a strong case. The only thing that I did not
quite grasp, was the quick description of the Spaniards conquest of
Mesoamerica; what exactly caused the Spaniards to capture the natives, since the
natives were not a thread to them? Besides that, I believe Guns, Germs and Steel
was a very well structured, extensively researched and superbly presented book.

Reading this was actually a different experience, because it covers and explains
in a nutshell how, when and why we are here today.