7th period AP World History
A Book Review of
Guns, Germs, and Steel:
The Fates of Human Societies
By: Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, written by Jared Diamond, is a historical account of the evolution of human societies on different continents based upon scientific evidence. More specifically, it is about the scientific interactions between human beings, plants and animals over time and how those interactions impacted the growth and health of their civilizations.
The author, Jared Diamond, obtained his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Cambridge. While teaching at UCLA as a professor of physiology, Diamond dedicated himself to the study of ecology and ornithology. Ecology is a form of biology that focuses on the interactions between humans, plants, animals, germs and other beings. Ornithology is the study of birds. Diamond made several expeditions to New Guinea and other nearby islands to support his study of ecology and ornithology. While his study of ornithology greatly contributed to his understanding of evolution among other species including humans, Diamond’s study of ecology seems to be most important to his creation of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond has also written The Third Chimpanzee, and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Aventis Prize for Science Books, a gold medal at the California Book Awards, and a Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Prize. Diamond has also earned the MacArthur Genius Grant, and a National Medal of Science. He is a member of three prestigious academic groups; the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
Jared Diamond’s inspiration for the book is a question he was asked by a man named Yali. Diamond met Yali on one of his expeditions to New Guinea. Yali asked “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?”. Diamond interprets that question to mean; why were the Europeans able to develop the technology to easily take over places such as New Guinea, Africa, or the Americas rather than vice versa? Diamond’s hypothesis is that it was not anything that the people of Europe did to develop guns, germs, and steel nor anything that people of other continents did not do to develop those things. Rather, Diamond claims there were ecological differences on each continent that prohibited human advancement on some continents.
In order to support his hypothesis, Diamond organizes his book into six sections; a prologue, four multi-chapter sections, and an epilogue. Each section addresses the basic needs of a society to develop guns, germs, and steel.
In the prologue, Diamond introduces Yali’s question, and denounces common answers to it. Common answers to his question have to do with racial, genetic, and cultural differences of people and places all over the world. Diamond reveals that he will answer Yali’s question through the study of ecological events starting around 11,000 B.C. because, by that time, there is proof that humans populated every continent on Earth except Antarctica.
Diamond begins by discussing how some ancient tribes, such as the Maori, went from being a large food producing population to hunters and gathers due to climate changes. He demonstrates how vital food production is to the advancement of a society, and how the environment can prohibit food production which, in turn, slows down the advancement of a society. Diamond explains the advantages that food producing societies had over hunter gathering societies and why some societies were able to begin food producing earlier than others entirely based upon the ecological conditions of the region.