Eurasia's Success in Guns Germs and Steel

In the book Guns, Germs and Steel, by physiologist Jared Diamond, published in 1997. Diamond analyzes Eurasia’s ultimate and proximate causes of success and why Eurasia advanced farther than any other continent, despite the fact that homo sapiens sapiens evolved in Africa, and therefore should have advanced further than newer societies, such as Eurasia. Diamond travels the world through his book, exploring multiple civilizations and regions that have distinctive factors that may have led humans to developed structures within their societies.

His conclusion is that Eurasian societies were able to dominate other continent’s societies because of biogeographic and environmental differences. Diamond uses multiple arguments to further his case for was Eurasia was able to dominate other civilizations, and uses proximate factors to support his ultimate factors. Although Diamond identifies many attributions that may have led to Eurasian domination, some historians, one being John Robert McNeill, have challenged his theories. McNeill argues that Diamond only takes geographic and environmental aspects into account, and does not take the social and economic factors into account, and that his theories only world on a small scale and not on an overall global scale.

Although both historians make good points, McNeill ultimately prevails over Diamond’s theories because of Diamond’s lack of perspective for the world as a whole, and his inability to consider social and economic factors.

One of the ultimate factors, or his large-scale environment factors in a given environment, is the West-East Axis vs the North-South axis theory. The axis theory attempts to explain how some humans were able migrate further because of the continent’s axis.

Get quality help now
Sweet V

Proficient in: Guns Germs And Steel

4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Diamond analyzes that migrating East-West made it easier to migrate because of similar climates, day lengths, diseases and biomes along the latitude. This contrasts humans that had to migrate along the North-South axis, which had different species of animals, diseases, and lengths of days, which resulted in slow diffusion. He supports his argument by talking about how crops in the Fertile Crescent did not spread very far south, however crops did spread fairly far on the West East axis. Another example that Diamond uses to support his argument is the lack of diffusion within Mesoamerica, saying that “the distance between the Mesoamerica and South America… is only 1,200 miles, [which is) approximately the same distance in Eurasia separating the Balkans from Mesopotamia” (Diamond 180). This information, although it may seem minimal, strengthens Diamond’s case for the tilted axis theory, and compares the diffusion of the Fertile Crescent and Mesoamerica and how “the principle of alphabetical writing, developed in the western part of the Fertile Crescent by 1500 B.C… [and] East to the Indian subcontinent within about a thousand years, but the Mesoamerican writing systems that flourished (independently) in prehistoric times for at least 2,000 years never reached the Andes” (Diamond 183). This evidence wraps up his argument and is able to convince the readers that Diamond’3s tilted axis theory is correct.

Another ultimate factor of Diamond, would be the speed of diffusion in a given area.

Diamond uses his axis theory and applies this to certain areas, and compares the diffusion of crops in Mesoamerica and the Fertile Crescent. Diamond stated that “for thousands of years after corn was domesticated in Mexico, it failed to spread northward into eastern North America” (Diamond 180). On the contrary, Diamond says that crop diffusion in the Fertile Crescent “spread rapidly westward to the Atlantic Ocean and eastward to the Indus Valley without encountering a major barrier” (Diamond 182) This comparison shows how while in Mesoamerica, which has a North-South Axis, was struggling to North and South, the Fertile Crescent was thriving and crops and domesticated animals were better able to spread. (Diamond 183). The speed of diffusion was of the one of the ultimate factors that led to factors that directly lead to a civilization’s ability to conquer others, or proximate factors. The more diffusion, the more civilizations are able to access resources that otherwise they would not be able to obtain.

Diffusion resulted in a surplus of food, that increases the population and the possibility for a social or political structure. Furthermore, diffusion could resulted in new new innovations, including weapons and transportation, which attributed to conquering other societies.

Diamond’s theories have been confronted by J.R. McNeill argument who says that the spread of people “was largely a human affair, determined by trade links, migration routes, and happenstance” (McNeill 172) and that coffee, which is a native Ethiopian plant, impacted Brazil greatly. This implies that Diamond ultimately has no evidence as to why humans migrate, and that he chooses to ignore the social aspects of the Europe culture. McNeill also tests Diamond’s theory that humans would move along the West-East axis because the climates are similar, and says that the same latitude does not necessarily mean the climate. McNeill states that “the Gulf Stream… of Western Europe, to the… climate extremes of Kazakhstan, to the monsoon rhythms of Korea” (McNeill 171) all vary immensely and do not have many, if any, similarities except the time of day. McNeill also attacks Diamond personally, saying that he only bases his argument on geographical and environmental aspects, and disregards the social and economic aspects, because he is a scientist and not a historian. And that while geographical and environmental aspects most likely did contributed to the rise of Eurasian societies, the social and economic structures of the societies and how civilizations interacted with each other is if not more, than equally, as important.

Although Guns, Germs, and Steel attempts to make an overview of human history in 500 pages, a daring proposition, he gives a false representation and does not take certain civilizations into account. Furthermore, if human history were to repeat itself and you were to apply Diamond’s theories, the result of human could be drastically different. McNeill points out Diamonds misrepresentations and makes Guns, Germs and Steel make more sense.


Cite this page

Eurasia's Success in Guns Germs and Steel. (2022, Feb 22). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7