Jared Diamond begins Guns Germs and Steel by giving a quick overview of evolutionary history of humankind from its beginning 7 million years ago in Africa using the development of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons to modern day humans. Diamond calls the time of great change between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago the “Great Leap Forward,” which was the development of complex tools. Diamond then explains how humans arrival in Australia and New Guinea wiped out the megafauna there. diamond then uses Clovis sites to illustrate the spread of human populations through the americas.
He continues to move through New Mexico to the southern cone of South America and into Patagonia. This spread went hand in hand with the thawing of the last great ice age and also with a megafauna die-off that Diamond believes was related to the expansion of humans. The next section of the chapter discusses how difficult it is to precisely date sites of human activity in the prehistory of the Americas because of problems in interpretations and radiocarbon dating.
He explores the possibility of human habitation in the Americas before these dates, although he expresses doubt.
The second chapter in the book discusses humans expansion throughout the Polynesian islands. The chapter opens with an anecdote about the Maori of New Zealand and the Moriori peoples of the Chatham Islands. In 1835 the Maori wiped out the Moriori. Diamond asks why this happened, and how, people from the same ancestors could have developed such different ways of life.Diamond concluded that the reason they had become so different was because they came from regions with different geographic conditions.
Farther south the Chatham Islands, a colder and less hospitable region, produced a hunter-gatherer society based on equality and social relationships. They didnt have any crop storage so they were not able to generate a surplus for populations which lead to the inability to create a military, or other specialized social positions. Northern New Zealand, on the other hand, was much warmer and could sustain agriculture, which allowed for dense populations and special groups of soldiers that fueled “ferocious wars.” Diamond argues here that geography produced two different types of societies for the Maori and the Moriori and that the same is true for all Polynesian islands. Diamond argues that in the rest of Polynesia, geographic variations between islands shaped the types of societies that developed there.
Chapter 3 opens with the capture and murder of the Inca emperor Atahuallpa by a Spanish conquistador. This is the “most dramatic moment” of contact between European and American people, and is the basis for what Diamond calls the “proximate factors”. Diamond deducts that Francisco Pizarro was able to capture Atahuallpa because of advanced military technology. Weapons were important, but Diamond believes the use of the horse was a big advantage. A smallpox epidemic, that had greatly diminished the Incas, had killed the previous Inca emperor and his heir, which led to a civil war between Atahuallpa and his brother. Diamond argues that the Incas’ lack of knowledge of the Spanish led to a series of mistakes. These mistakes stemmed from a lack of knowledge in transmitting information . Diamond also asks why the Spanish came to conquer the Incas instead of the other way around? Ships allowed for people to travel across water, and the Spanish were able to benefit from new idea and technology through writing and literacy. Literacy in particular “made the Spaniards heirs to a huge body of knowledge about human behavior and history,” which allowed them to outsmart the Incas. Therefore, these factors, were the factors that allowed for the Incas to be conquered.
Diamond begins chapter 4 with a narrative about him working a farm as a teenager. The narrative is used to explore how a farming people such as the Europeans could go on to own the land of the Blackfeet who were a fierce and nomadic group of Great Plains hunter-gatherers. Diamond continues to ask the question of how some people were able to develop agriculture and others were not. Domesticated animals improved many aspects of agriculture but maybe the domestication of animals exposed humans to new diseases and overtime humans were able to build up an immunity to the diseases. Even more so the domestication of plants and animals was able to make societies sedentary and was able to contribute to specialized labor and bureaucracy.
Chapter 5 is quite short, but it provides an important basis for Diamond to to explain agricultural production developed. This chapter shows that only certain regions developed farming and animal domestication. Diamond believes farming is the foundation of societies. Diamond thinks agriculture developed in 5 primary regions. Other areas then received domesticated agriculture following “founder crops” that came from elsewhere. These areas benefited from their location near the Fertile Crescent..” showing the isolated agricultural practices of the different geographical regions is very important in Diamonds broader argument.
Chapter 6 discusses how farming was able to develop as it did and showing readers why certain people were able to developed an agricultural lifestyle. Diamond then continues to present the immediate contributors that caused a change to agricultural production. Diamond believes that their were a series of internal and external factors to society that caused the change to agriculture. Diamond provides very logically evidence that supports what may have happened. The change to agriculture was a hard change to make but after the transition was made farming became a very crucial part of history.
In chapter 7 diamond illustrates the ways in which different types of plants were able to aid human cultivation. During chapter 7 Diamond argues that the flora and fauna in a certain geographic regions determines food production. This would mean that the landscape of the region and the available resources caused the people in the area to develop agriculture and not because they were brilliant people.Through trial and error, learning, and creative thinking, humans took available food sources and improved on them for consumption. In some places it was not possible to create food sources like in other places such as Africa and the Fertile Crescent.
Chapter 8 might be the most important chapter of part 2. During this chapter Diamond states his case for why some regions developed agriculture and others didnt.Diamond uses this chapter to ask the question if the reason certain Areas didnt develop agriculture is of human error or if the reason was because the geography which the society was located. Diamond uses deductive reasoning to determine that it was not the peoples fault to develop agriculture, but rather a factor of the environment. For those that did not develop agriculture, the “entire suite of wild plant and animal species” were enough to sustain them and offered a successful form of competition from intensive agriculture. That many of these people did domesticate certain species as a dietary supplement supports his point.
Diamond argues in chapter 9 that much like plant domestication, animal domestication is also incredibly difficult. For mammal domestication all variables must be present none can be missing.Diamond states that “only a small percentage of wild mammal species ended up in happy marriages with human”(diamond). In chapter 9 diamond shows the reader again how the peoples of Europe and Asia had a major advantage with all 5 of the major livestock species being found to originate from Eurasia.The Eurasian people possessed the major factors that lead to bacteriological immunity.
Chapter 10 is a very crucial part of Diamonds over all argument. Diamond uses this chapter focus on the spread of food production and also the lack of it along with directional axes. Diamond research brought him to the conclusion that the spread of food production was much more widespread in a particular time at a particular area along the axes. The argument that diamond puts forth at the beginning of the chapter is that ‘Axis orientations affected the rate at which crops and livestock spread, and maybe even writings and other inventions. That would mean that the basic features of geography greatly contributed to the different experiences of Native Americans, Africans, and Eurasians.
Diamond uses chapter 11 to show how the factors from the second part of his novel are directly tied to the factors of conquest. Diamond provides a very basic account of human disease and its relationship to animals and animal husbandry. The basis of his argument here is that animals carrying germs had years to develop with people on the Eurasian continent. Because of the diseases taking so long to develop the Peoples of Eurasia were able to develop immunities to a much larger variety of diseases and carried them into the new world. Since people in the new world hadnt been exposed to the animal domestication like the Eurasians they didnt build up the same immunity. In this chapter diamonds argument reaches its peak showing that geographic factors allowed for greater animal domestication in Eurasia than in America.
Diamond uses chapter 12 to look for connections between geography on human social organization to a specific factor of global conquest years later. Writing made many important aspects of a sophisticated society much easier. When states became empires writing played a major part in expansion and allowing the recording of new discoveries. Chapter 12 pairs the only two known independent systems of writing and asks the question why the uses of writing were so different. Sumerian writing spread across the entire continent, while the Aztec system was localized to Central America. Diamond’s geographic argument is at correct here. If it had not been for migration in Eurasia, Europeans may never have developed their own writing.
In chapter 13 Diamond considers why Eurasians were the ones to invent things like steel equipment and vessels for traveling across the ocean. Many argue that this is do to Europeans having a high intelligence level and being greatly innovative but others have argued that Eurasian societies were just more receptive to new inventions. Diamond doesnt believe that new innovations occurred because of peoples curiosity and tinkering not because of a need that they had. After a new invention has been made, the inventor and the society must find a use. Once something is invented, the inventor must convince society to make use of it. There are many different factors that might affect this, including the item’s economic use and social value.
Diamond concludes that because of Australias extreme harshness just a small number of people were able to populate the continent so the Australians were not able to be apart of many technological advances. In this chapter diamond fights a racial argument that whites settled Australia and turned it into a modern, developed democracy and that racial inequities kept Australian Aborigines from doing so. Diamond deducts that this reasoning is inaccurate and that Europeans brought society and technology with them because society couldnt develop in the harsh conditions of Australia. Diamond was able to notice that New Guinea is extremely wet and has many microclimates in it. People in New Guinea developed village societies but they could not advance to states because geographic limitations. Australia remained a hunter-gatherer band society because of its geographic features.
In Chapter 14 Diamond explains the different types political organizations and how states became the dominant social organization. Diamond uses a classification based on four categories band, which was the smallest, tribe, chiefdom, and state, being the largest. States are different from chiefdoms in their greater size and more control over social order. According to Diamond food production is the heart and soul of social development because agriculture increases populations and brings more opportunities to a community.
In chapter 16 Diamond tries to prove that his geographic factors explain the rise of Chinese culture and society. Diamond’s point that he is trying to make in this chapter is “thanks to the achievements of East Asia’s first farmers, China became Chinese, and peoples from Thailand to … Easter Island became their cousins.” Diamond means this in a general sense that agriculture developed in both northern and southern China and helped bring together similar peoples. The Chinese people would later dominate their which included Southeast Asia and even the Korean Peninsula.
Chapter 17 is about how agriculture and technology caused the spread to different Polynesian islands. Majority of this conquest happened in prehistory but in the modern era when Europeans with improved agriculture and technology entered Polynesia, they benefited from this same process as well and ended up dominating the region. Way back in chapter 2 Diamond introduces the basic framework for the expansion of the Polynesian islands and this chapter gives greater detail of that framework.
Chapter 18 is a short summary of Diamonds overall argument of the book. Diamond introduces a new element comparing the language patterns of Eurasia and America showing that even though Eurasia has large language families each holds many different distinct languages in it.
Most westerners view Africa as black but in chapter 19 Diamond teaches the reader that it actually very diverse and that its diversity is from its geography. Five major human groups live in Africa and each one of these groups is very different. Diamond believes that the development of Africa was caused by the six language groups that he found. The different languages that diamond found were the major tools he used to discover the prehistory in Africa. Diamond thinks that the reason for these languages was due to geographic factors.