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Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies takes readers on a whirlwind tour of human history from our origins in Africa up until today. The book tries to explain why such large socioeconomic disparities exist between people around the world today and why European peoples conquered Africans, South Americans, Australians, Asians, and Native Americans and not vise versa. In the book, Diamond explains that factors such as wide diversity of wild plants and animals, germs, east-west and north-south axes, climate, and just plain geographical luck contributed to advancement of some peoples while inhibited others. Diamond continues to explain that as a result of these factors, not because of European biological superiority, European peoples were able to have higher population densities, more diseases, more time to develop agriculture, writing, and governments, and have more free time to develop technologies such as steel which they used to subjugate other peoples around the globe later in history. Finally, Diamond explains although other non-European peoples such as the Sioux Indians of the Midwestern United States acquired European animals and technologies such as the horse, they were unable to conquer European peoples because they were hundreds or thousands of years behind in both lifestyles and technology and did not have enough time to utilize their newfound assets before being conquered. The book is divided into three separate sections which all build off of one another. Section one explains why only a select few wild plant and animal species are able to be domesticated. Then, section two explains how animal domestication lead to the development of agriculture, food production, sedentary lifestyles, diseases, and denser human populations. Finally, in section three, Diamonds compares and contrasts different societies around the world.
After reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, I learned that the success of a certain people is not dependent on race as some have previously claimed, but instead on certain favorable geographical features such as diverse domesticable flora and fauna which serve as prerequisites for subsequent advancement of that particular people. I also learned that most advanced societies followed a certain pattern for advancement. First, a society needed a large group of potential candidates of animals that could be domesticated. After those animals were found and domesticated, societies then needed agriculture and food security. Then, they needed larger, denser populations and diseases, and finally they needed technologies such as steel to subjugate other people. Diamond explained there was always a “survival of the fittest” mentality when a society advanced; grow, improve, and spread, repeat. Finally, I discovered that scientists use different types of dating techniques such as radiometric and carbon dating. Carbon dating is usually more precise but scientists prefer to use radiometric dating to get an approximation for when a really old even happened. In the book, Diamond used radiometric dating instead of carbon dating. Diamond did this because he such broad periods in history such as the Ice Ages which don’t really need precise start and end dates.
I think it is important to read about human geography because it helps us understand why the world is the way it is today and how it got this way. As a high school student in history class, I not only think it is important to remember important people and dates, but also study the causes and effects of events in order to better understand the people, culture, and time period. As a result of analyzing causes and effects, we can ultimately better understanding and have context for world history. Furthermore, we can assess what worked and what didn’t throughout history so we can prevent ourselves from repeating those same mistakes. I think Diamond wrote the book in order to spread awareness about human geography and to undermine racist theories about evolution and advancement. Diamond accomplished this goal through a few ways. First, Diamond tried to target readers of all ages when writing the book. Diamond accomplished this by not using lots of scientific jargon and tried to explain his ideas in a brief but detailed and easy-to-understand way. By implementing these changes in his writing, Diamond made the book more readable which ultimately makes the reading experience more enjoyable. As a result, the information is more accessible and more people can get a basic understanding of human geography instead of limiting understanding to a select few with PhDs. After reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, I wish that Diamond addressed about why Middle Easterners and East Asians were conquered by Europeans despite having very advanced governments, technologies, and civilizations which far surpassed European society’s for years. Finally, I wish that Diamond addressed how the Ice Ages and the shifting of the continents affected different societies’ advancement around the globe.
The book was very interesting to me because it tried to provide an explanation of why there is such large socioeconomic disparities around the world in tolerant, open, and non-condescending way. For example, the book didn’t say these people are poor and less advanced than others because that is just the way they are; instead it explained these people are poorer than others today and here are the reasons why. As a result of this non-condescending reasoning, I think it made more people would be ready to accept and open to hear Diamond’s ideas. I also found the book very interesting because it provided a fresh look at world history by examining causes and not just looking at dates and saying in x year, x happened. For me, the in-depth examinations of causes and effects helped better understand why the world is where it is today. I enjoyed how Diamond took a usually hard-to-understand topic such as human geography and made it accessible to the average reader by including an appendix, other notes, and graphs to clarify his ideas. Finally, I liked how Diamond wrote the book on a subject that he has studied for many years while also saying “I am not the final source and authority on the subject.” By giving the reader a perfect balance of knowledge and unknown, it made the me more interested and want to find out more about human geography. The book really helped me expand my horizons on topics I can read about that I otherwise paid no attention to previously.
I would recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel to other high school students because I think it is a good introduction into human geography. The book provided lots of support such as author’s notes and graphs if you get needed it and used everyday words so the ideas were easier to comprehend and were not limited to a select few but instead available for all. Because the book was easy to understand, it then made me more interested in human geography because I felt like I really understood the material. If readers had one lesson to take away after reading the book, it would to be more open-minded. Before we make a snap judgement about a certain culture, religion, people etc., I hope readers can step back, look at the bigger picture, and analyze causes more critically so readers can ultimately understand why this event happened. I think being more open minded will help connect people together by finding out that we have so many more commonalities than differences. I also think our commonalities can spark a sense of empathy which would then spark a feeling of unity and understanding which would then bring change.
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