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Guns, Germs, And Steel Review

1279 words - 5 pages

I first read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel in the Fall 2003 based on a recommendation from a friend. Many chapters of the book are truly fascinating, but I had criticisms of the book back then and hold even more now. Chief among these is the preponderance of analysis devoted to Papua New Guinea, as opposed to, say, an explanation of the greatly disparate levels of wealth and development among Eurasian nations. I will therefore attempt to confine this review on the "meat and potatoes" of his book: the dramatic Spanish conquest of the Incas; the impact of continental geography on food production; and finally, the origins of the Eurasian development of guns, germs, and steel. In terms of structure, I will first summarize the book's arguments, then critically assess the book's evidentiary base, and conclude with an analysis of how Guns, Germs, and Steel ultimately helps to address the wealth question.
Jared Diamond's fundamental argument in Guns, Germs, and Steel is that Eurasians were able to conquer the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia because continental differences set Eurasia on a different, better trajectory than the other continents. His argument addresses a simple question: Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? According to the author, the most important continental differences appear in domesticable plants and animals, germs, orientation of continental axes, and ecological barriers. Throughout the book, he refers back to the "Collision at Cajamarca," or the first encounter between the Incan emperor Atahuallpa and the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, as a "broad window onto world history." The encounter is effective in capturing his argument, namely that the Spanish "victory" over the Incas was all but a foregone conclusion given the centuries of accumulated benefits conferred on the Europeans by their continental circumstance.
The beneficial continental circumstances enjoyed by Eurasians first appears in vegetation. The Fertile Crescent was endowed with diverse, abundant, and highly productive cereals and pulses such as wheat, barley, and pea that yielded both starch and protein. These food staples were domesticated very quickly and with little effort by Eurasians, whose newfound farms gave rise to specialization and division of labor. Conversely, in the Americas, the sole cereal crop of corn took many more thousands of years of domesticated refinement to prove useful to humans. Mr. Diamond also places great emphasis on the geographic East-West orientation of Eurasia. A plant growing at a given latitude can grow at that latitude the world over. Thus, Eurasia's East-West orientation was highly conducive to the rapid spread (by trade) of productive domesticated grains across the continent. Conversely, the Americas, Africa, and Australia were impaired by their North-South orientation, which dictated that domesticated plants from people of one latitude were...

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