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Guns, Germs And Steel
Guns, Germs And Steel - 01
Guns, Germs, & Steel - 02
Guns, Germs, & Steel - 03

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Guns, Germs And Steel

Jared Diamond

Episode One

Jared Diamond said an alternative title would be A short history about everyone for the last 13,000 years. The book attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while attempting to refute the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example Chinese centralized government, or improved disease resistance among Eurasians), these advantages were only created due to the influence of geography and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes.

Diamond points out that nearly all of humanity's achievements (scientific, artistic, architectural, political, etc.) have occurred on the Eurasian continent. The peoples of other continents (Sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, and Aboriginal Australians/New Guineans) have been largely conquered, displaced, and in some extreme cases – referring to Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, and South Africa's indigenous Khoisan peoples – exterminated by Eurasian military and political advantages stemming from the early rise of agriculture after the last Ice Age. He proposes explanations to account for such disproportionate and lopsided distributions of power and achievements in history.

The book's title is a reference to the means by which European nations happened to conquer populations of other areas and maintained their dominance, often despite being vastly out-numbered – superior weapons provided immediate military superiority (guns); Eurasian diseases weakened and reduced local populations, making it easier to maintain control over them (germs); and centralized governmental systems promoted nationalism and powerful military organizations (steel). The book uses geographical factors to show how Europeans developed such superior military technology and why diseases to which Europeans and Asians had some natural immunity devastated populations in the Americas.

Diamond highlights two major environmental advantages of Eurasia over other areas in which farming apparently developed independently. The various Eurasian inventors of farming, and especially those in "South West Asia" (roughly Mesopotamia and Turkey), had by far the best natural endowment of crops and of domesticable animals in the size range from goats or dogs upwards. The superiority in domesticable animals was the more notable, as other areas had at most two and often no such animals. Eurasia's other big advantage is that its mainly East-West axis provides a huge area with similar latitudes and therefore climates. As a result, it was far easier for migrating Eurasian populations to use in new areas, those plants and animals to which they had become accustomed. By contrast the Americas' North-South axis forced migrating Native Americans to adopt new crops and, where available, animals as they migrated from North to South, because of the wide variation in climates.

Native Americans, for instance, had access to corn. But corn provides little nutrients and must be planted one by one – an extremely cumbersome task. It should be noted that as they developed agricultural surpluses, for instance, in the Mississippian culture about 1000 CE, they created more dense and specialized settlements. On the other hand, Eurasians had wheat and barley, which are high in fiber and nutrients and can be sowed en masse with just a toss of the hand. They generated massive food surpluses, which supported exponential population growth. Such growth led to larger workforces, and more numerous inventors, artisans, etc. Grains are not only easily planted, but can also be stored for longer periods of time, unlike such tropical crops as bananas.

In another example, Sub-Saharan Africans had access to mostly wild mammals, whereas Eurasians had access to the most docile animals on the planet: horses and camels that are easily tamed for human transportation; goats and sheep for hides, clothing, and cheese; cows for milk; bullocks for tilling fields and transportation; and benign animals such as pigs and chickens. Africans, through geographic happenstance, had to deal with lions, leopards, etc. So Eurasia was the beneficiary of geographic, climatic, and environmental happenstance that favored the people after the last Ice Age about 13,000-15,000 years ago. Diamond points out that the only animals useful for human survival and purposes in New Guinea came from the East Asian mainland, when they were transplanted during the Austronesian invasion some 4,000-5,000 years ago.

Diamond also touches briefly on why the dominant powers of the last 500 years have been West European rather than East Asian (especially China). The Asian areas in which major civilizations arose had geographical features conducive to the formation of large, stable, isolated empires which faced no external pressure to correct policies, which led to stagnation. By contrast, Europe's many natural barriers allowed the development of many competing nation-states. Such competition forced the European nations to encourage innovation and avoid technological stagnation.

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