Humble Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years is a fascinated read for anyone interested in human history, in how we have developed and spread as a species, and just how certain civilisations conquered others to arrive in the states that they are now.

Specifically, Jared Diamond attempts to answer a very important question; why was it that Eurasian civilisations were able to survive and conquer other nations, instead of the other way around? Presumably, 13,000 years ago, each of our human ancestor settlements across the globe were in the same position with respect to technology, so why was Eurasia successful? While answering this question, Diamond also refutes the controversial idea that Eurasian rule is due to any form of inherent advantage in Eurasian intellect, morals, or genetic superiority.

Tackling the aforementioned refutation is particularly important, as unfortunately, many people in well off societies seem to believe it.

Diamond quite successfully argues that rather than inherent advantages, gaps in power and technology stem from several opportunistic advantages in geography and environmental standings, which caused some positive feedback loops, resulting in auto-catalytic growth.

What started it all, was the slow migration from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, roughly 13,000 years ago. From being able to domesticate various plants and animals, tribes could begin to stock surplus supplies, and provide for non-food producing members, such as chiefs, scribes, etc. Once you free up time to focus on non-food related activities, societies can begin to expand, giving rise to population booms.

With population booms come epidemics, which, over time, survivors develop a resistance to. When these disease-resistant members invade small tribes in other parts of the world who have never been exposed, the germs can decimate untouched bands and tribes, often well in advance of the invaders themselves.

Back to the question; why was Eurasia so fruitful and not another part of the world? This mainly rests on the abundance of domesticable plants and animals compared to other continents, and the fact that Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, as opposed to north-south like the Americas or Africa. With different latitudes, comes different suitability of crops. They could not expand north-south, due to snowy regions, unseasonable tropics, or harsh deserts. But they could expand east-west, which Eurasia could accommodate.

All of this is quite fascinating, and my modest summary simply cannot do it the proper justice. However, it seems that Diamond goes over some points laboriously, to really drive home a small point, or will revisit an answer several times. Either that, or it’s been a while since I’ve read such a long non-fiction book! But I guess it helps, I could sum up the book pretty well, as it was drilled into me.

This book was mentioned by the great Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, known for his book & online course Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I strongly advise you check out his work before this, as he sums up the agricultural section of humankind quite well – Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great knowledge addition to it.


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