Jared Diamond

Imagine a conversation between a biologist studying birds and a local politician in New Guinea. It all began with a thought-provoking question: Why did white people have so much “cargo” while black people had so little? This question forms the basis of Professor Diamond’s exploration into the history of human, migration, and cultural adaptation. The result is an exhilarating journey through human history, from the Pleistocene age to the present, with a vision for a scientific approach to studying our past.

Guns, Germs, and Steel is an ambitious endeavor, covering a wide range of topics. As a historian, I find myself trusting Diamond’s account of prehistory, despite having a European and Asian focus myself. According to Diamond, the most significant influences on modern history occurred long before the birth of Christ. The narrative he presents of human prehistory is plausible and well-founded, highlighting the impact of environmental conditions on the progression from hunting to settled agriculture.

The development of agricultural societies led to technological advancements, such as metallurgy and literacy, primarily in Eurasia and its surrounding regions. The concept of diffusion plays a crucial role here, with certain continents and regions benefiting from favorable internal and external connections. This advantage became evident when Europeans, armed with guns, germs, and steel, colonized the Americas, Oceania, and Southern Africa, overpowering and subduing local populations.

One of Professor Diamond’s key arguments is that the differences in material culture between regions should not be attributed to race. He rejects the notion that intelligence varies between races and instead emphasizes adaptability in harsh environments. His evidence includes personal anecdotes and observations of how “primitive” peoples excel in survival skills. This perspective aligns with an evolutionary biologist’s logical approach in a multicultural world.

Guns, Germs, and Steel includes thought-provoking photographic illustrations of human faces from different racial groups worldwide. These images serve to illustrate that adaptability, not race, is the determining factor in human history. No one claims that the activity of magpies diminishing song-birds in British gardens is due to their superior intelligence, but rather their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

In summary, Guns, Germs, and Steel provides an engrossing exploration of human history, challenging simplistic explanations while highlighting the importance of environment and adaptability. It invites readers to question prevailing beliefs and consider a fresh perspective on the interplay of cultures throughout time.