"Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond Book Review Essay

Submitted By tizzzy1210
Words: 1957
Pages: 8

Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.

Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California Los Angeles attempted to provide a brief history of everybody over the last 13,000 years in this non-fiction, historical monograph. The question that motivated Diamond to compose this book is: “Why did history unfold differently on different continents?” (9). This detailed monograph includes excerpts from articles composed by reputable journalists, along with books published by respected academic publishers such as Cambridge University Press. All of the research performed by Diamond in regards to this book support his theory that geographic and environmental circumstances, not genetic superiority, are the reasons for the vast difference in the development of civilization, as we know it. In the prologue, Diamond describes a question asked by a New Guinean politician named Yali while doing fieldwork in New Guinea. The question was: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” (14). This question brought Diamond to reformulate the question into why power and influence was distributed as it now is, rather than being distributed to different civilizations of people. Diamond stated, “New Guineans are probably genetically superior to Westerners.” (21). So why is it that we perceive them as uncivilized, or inferior? Diamond begins Part 1 of his book by explaining the human origin in Africa around 7 million years ago. He explains the evolution from Ape to Neanderthal, and then to Homo erectus, known as the first beings to migrate out of Africa due to the discovery of skeletal remains in Southeast Asia dating back around 1 million years ago. After the evolution from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens came “The Great Leap Forward” around 50,000 years ago. (39). The Great Leap Forward is Diamond’s term for the emergence of standardized tools such as stone and bone tools, jewelry made from ostrich-shell beads, and even bones shaped into fishhooks and needles. Multi-piece weapons such as harpoons, spear-throwers, and eventually bows and arrows were also found, dating back to this period. All of these artifacts were found in garbage heaps belonging to a people termed the Cro-Magnons in southwestern Europe. Diamond leans toward the question of: Why these advancements in weapons and tools only took place in certain geographic areas? He asks: Why didn’t Africa advance quicker than other civilizations given their obvious “head start?” (50). Diamond elaborates on this question by stating that a case can be made for any of the continents making rapid advancements; and he will spend the entirety of the book on a quest to discover why development occurred with such rapidity in some locations, while it ceased to exist in others. Diamond spends the next two chapters of his book describing how two civilizations succumbed to the power of superior technology. The Maori peoples, due to superior weaponry and political organization, conquered the Moriori in 1835. Although the two civilizations were descendants of the Polynesians, the Maori lived on a much larger island and practiced agriculture. The Moriori lived on the small Chatham Islands and were a hunter-gatherer society with fewer resources. The Maori and Moriori peoples descended from the same race. So why did one civilization fall to the other? Diamond also describes the single greatest population shift after Europeans began colonizing the New World. The population shift he describes is the “resulting conquest, numerical reduction, or complete disappearance of most groups of Native Americans.” (67). Diamond provides a detailed eyewitness account from six companions of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro containing details of the capture of Incan emperor Atahualpa, as well as the massacre of around 7,000 Native