Guns, Germs, and Steel

Author: Jared Diamond
W.W. Norton & Co., March 1999

Jared Diamond is a MacArthur fellow and a UCLA evolutionary biologist. For this book Jared Diamond won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. The book is an overview of the rise of civilization and the differences in development in human societies, from the hunters and gatherers to industrial societies. The book follows a question by a friend from New Guinea: "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?"  By "cargo" the man from New Guinea meant goods. Diamond's explanation differs from those who would attribute innate superiority to those in the more economically advanced societies – those societies that produced steel and guns.

Diamond writes of the black people of New Guinea having as much native intelligence as anyone else in the world. This is what I found among other dark-skinned peoples decades ago in my journeys through the South Pacific.

Diamond speaks of people spreading crops of wheat and barley, sheep, goats, cows and pigs east and west from the Fertile Crescent. The domestication of animals that could pull a plow helped produce an abundance of food that allowed larger populations, greater armies for conquest, labor for constructing cities and productions of iron, steel and such that made European society greater producers and conquerors. Before the industrial revolution, Diamond points out, "beasts of burden were the most powerful machines on the planet." The mule, horse and ox were available to the Europeans and not to the people of New Guinea. "The only muscle power in New Guinea was human muscle power."

Diamond believes that Europeans have benefited more than have the people of New Guinea from geography. He describes the creation of immunities among those living close to animals in Europe. And he writes of their immunities, guns and steel giving them an advantage in dominating others around the globe.  

The book is an easy read.