The Summary of the Book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

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Table of Contents

  • The Beginning, Spread and Divergion of Humans
  • The Environment and the Fate of the Area
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel

The Beginning, Spread and Divergion of Humans

In the first chapter of Guns, Germs, and Steel, The author Jared Diamond talks about the beginnings of the human species. He describes how we broke off from other animals around 7 million years ago. This process happened in Africa and was the beginning of the human race as we know it. Humans stayed in Africa for about 5-6 million years, but we moved on around 1-2 million years ago to Eurasia starting a new chapter. After this human, or homo sapiens really kicked off, in what’s called “The Great Leap Forward”. They started having the shape we still have to this day. Art and technology also started to truly begin and advance.

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During “The Great Leap Forward”, Humans moved to other parts of the earth for the 2nd time. Our species advanced into the Pacific. Humans headed down to Australia and the Pacific Island, and finally to the Americas. Within only tens of thousands of years humans went from abiding in Africa to inhabiting all the continents of our planet. Around 11,000 BC, the Author thinks the fate of human society diverge. He thinks this because all continents were populated with hunter-gather societies, not yet having permeant settlements.

The author, Jared Diamond considers if a modern archeologist can go back to 11,000 BC and determine which continents have the best chance of getting new advanced technology. Africa, where humanity started has been inhabited for the longest amount of time so giving the people here the longest time to know the locations of the continent learning all its nooks and cranny’s. Africa also has the biggest genetic variety giving it an advantage in genetic adaptation. Europe was the second continent inhabited and was the largest by far. They had an early advantage though, already creating more and more advanced tools and art. Jared say this gives the Eurasians a huge advantage. The America’s have been inhabited for the shortest amount of time but has a lot of space and big geographic diversity. Jared says these factors give the Americans a good advantage. Finally, the Australians had the smallest continent but had the earliest ships and technology similar/ to the Europeans.

In summary, this chapter talks about the beginnings of humanity In Africa and its spread to other continents. Its later talks about the divergence of the human society’s. The author also questions which society has an advantage over the others

The Environment and the Fate of the Area

The author, Jared starts out the chapter by asking why permeant agriculture settlements took longer to take place in different places. To do this, he compares the 5 main areas of the world and their fertility. Some examples he listed are: The Fertile Cresent, Southwestern Europe, California, South western Australia, and The South African Cape. In 8500 BC agriculture began in the Fertile Cresent in Mesopotamia. It spread to Southwestern Europe in 5500 BC. In the other 3 regions Agricultural societies arrived much later, in 1500 AD, nearly 7000 years later with the beginnings of colonization by Europe nations. These colonizers mainly came from France, Britain, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands. Due to colonization therefore you can see these languages all around the globe. This reason is why we speak English today and why South America speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

The author explains that Hunter-Gather and Agricultural societies weren’t mutually exclusive and evolved over time. The very first farmers had a harder job and lived shorter lives then the Hunter-Gathers. They actually lived side by side for a time. The Hunter-Gathers would trade with the settled societies without permanently settling down. The shift between advancing to a permanent settlement actually took thousands of years. It depended on many factors if you had a farming or gathering society. Some of these are their cultural values and the need for certain types of food. Once the first farmers established the practice their neighbors could choose to adapt this new technology or ignore it. People in areas that are harder to hunter-gather would switch to farming much quicker.

The switch was not quick but over thousands of years all of society has switched to a farming lifestyle. Over these thousands of years, the advantages of farming have come clearer and clearer. For one Global warming has decreased the amount of wild game and plants. Over hunting by Hunter-Gatherers are has had this effect. Another reason for conversion was the rapidly increasing amount of farming societies. This made conflict between the groups rare since the numbers of the farming societies would come into play. Although even in great farming lands, like the previously mentioned California Hunter gathers did survive some. Some areas farmers haven’t been able to disperse the Hunter-Gather lifestyle. The author predicts that this won’t last though, and they will all eventually cease to live this way. In this chapter the author, Jared Diamond dives deeper into how the environment determines the fate of an area. To do this, he chooses to talk about Polynesia. Polynesia is made up of many islands, each forming their own society.

The author talks about an event in 1835, where 500 Maori soldiers sailed to the Chatham Islands, which is a set of islands inhabited by a different race of islanders. The Maori came from a culture that was heavily set in war and was also a huge Agricultural society based in modern day New Zealand. They also had more advanced weaponry. The other group was a small hunter-gatherer society. The Maori completely slaughtered the group, and the Author uses this as a prime example of that whoever has the best technology, wins. They had the same genes, but the Author also suspects other factors were at play then genetics. The author delves into the origins of the people of the Chatham Islands. They were originally colonized by the Maori about 1,000 years before the war. They eventually evolved into the Morori people. They brought crops to farm, but they failed in Chatham’s climate. This made them not have to the food to do other things, than look for more food. They didn’t have much room so didn’t evolve into an advance society. They had no neighbors so didn’t need to focus on war training.

The Maori on the other hand, had plenty of room for farming. They also had neighbors so had to learn how to defend their land thus creating this warlike culture. In this light, the Maori became advanced because of their environment. With all this to consider, this supports the authors belief that environment has extreme influence of a society’s development. All these factors, food, population, density, neighbors, determine the fate of a society. Having enough food to supply your society leads to more advanced societies with more professions and jobs. Having neighbors leads to a strong war society that leads to taking over other societies.

In conclusion Jared affirms his belief that environmental factors hold the fate of a society in its hand, good or bad.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Chapter 11 starts part 3 of the book. The Author talks about the food production that lead to the creation and development of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that enabled the Eurasian conquest of the world. One of the most important things that he says Eurasians have developed is human domestication of animals. This led to transfer of diseases like Smallpox and the Flu. This was crucial because the ones who were the most likely to infect others were the most likely to survive. If they survived the disease, they were immune for life, creating a whole society of immune individuals. This doesn’t work with hunter-gatherer populations though, their populations were too few and far between so not being able to get immunity from deadly diseases.

Germs were extremely crucial in the conquest of the New World by European powers. The Europeans who landed in the America’s were extremely outnumbered. This is where germs come into play, the natives had no immunity to theses disease, and it wiped out entire native societies in one go. It came for the political leaders and upon their death societies would collapse. Archeologists believe the New World to have 20 million people prior to 1500. They also believe 19 million of them were wiped out to do disease. This and the Europeans supreme technology’s won the day and lead to the societies we know today.

While dozens of diseases transferred to the Natives, none transferred to the Europeans. Firstly, there weren’t enough livestock to transfer diseases among the Natives like we see in Europe, thus not having any to go to Europeans. There were dense enough populations to host a disease, but these were created too recently to host a big enough one to give to the Europeans.

In summary germs were on of the key factors that led to the downfall of Native tribes in the Americas and the rise of Europeans. The Europeans wiped out the native populations with germs but didn’t contract any of their own.

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