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Critical Review of The Book Guns, Germs and Steel

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Guns, Germs, and Steel sets out to tell the history for the last 13,000 years. It also aims to explain why some societies were much more successful than others. Some of this success can be given to population growth, immunity to germs, and animal domestication. Jared Diamond then goes on to propose an interesting question, asked by a local New Guinea politician named Yali: “ 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?” This is a very interesting point and one that the book certainly revolves around. Why do certain countries lack the resources they need to become a thriving nation? Diamond thoroughly answers both of these questions throughout the book. His main argument is that the aspects of European life: the military, economy, etc, evolved the way they did due to geographical luck and not because they were better in any way than the rest of the world.

The term globalization has been around for awhile now. It can be described as how countries interact with each other, as well as come together for any number of purposes. Even 13,000 years ago, there were countries trading products and goods, making journeys overseas, and exchanging information. The fact that all of these aspects of life started, as well as why and how leads straight into Guns, Germs, and Steel.

This book is not just for history professors. If you have any interest in world history, or understanding why some countries progressed much slower than others, it is a must read. Overall, Diamond succeeds in explaining the factors that were attributed to this slow progression. These include: the plants and animals that were available for domestication, the differences in population size, and the spreading of technology in Europe.

In Chapter 4 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond explains why agriculture was important to human history. In short, if humans are hunter gatherers, there is no specialization because they are always out searching for food. But when animals started to be domesticated and kept on a farm, it led to people that have political power gaining control of all of the food produced. Keep in mind, not all continents had many animals that could be domesticated. Europe had a large amount of animals that could be, which leads to another important point: When animals are domesticated and crops are grown, it leads to an increase in leisure time. This is important because it gives humans plenty of time to experiment with other jobs that do not involve food. The next step in this in all of this is population growth. Diamond says it himself when he states on page 82 that “…availability of more consumable calories means more people.” More people simply means more experimenting which then leads to other useful materials being produced out of the crops and livestock such as clothing, blankets, nets and rope. Silk was another crucial material taken from silkworms. Another important aspect of animal domestication and the technology developed was the fact that horses were domesticated. They could be used in wars, and this was a very nice advantage to have. As we discussed in class, horses could be used for long journeys as well as flanking an enemy in war. Diamond does a great job explaining how these resources became readily available. All of these points tie back to Europe having an advantage over the rest of the world in terms of animal domestication, development of technology, and the population size increasing. The fact that Europe had a large amount of animals that could be domesticated goes back to one of Diamond’s main points in the book: That this is initially what caused there to be an increase in food, an increase in population, and development of new technology.

The Germs part of the title is clearly illustrated on page 87 when Diamond states: “ The humans who domesticated animals were the first to fall victim to the newly evolved germs..” He goes onto explain how humans eventually developed a resistance to the serious diseases that these animals were causing. As talked about in class, cows carry “cowpox”. Once a boil develops, a human can simply make a cut on his or her arm and insert the puss from the boil on the cow, creating a resistance to smallpox. This shows that the Europeans were very inventive when it comes to treating and preventing diseases.

It is important to note that those who had been farming the longest had the best resources, technology, the worst germs. They cleared out their enemies with ease. This can explain Yali’s question. People that were not killed in the revolution or had less animals that were domesticated became the lowest of the low in the world: The poor. “Diamond infers that human populations under duress cannot move more quickly to adopt new technologies or organizations..” This explains the question of why survivors did not catch onto any of the advances of the invaders.

One of the flaws of the book is that Diamond does not talk about how culture or race influenced where parts of the world are today. Different cultures have different ways of doing things, such as harvesting crops, way of transportation, and economic specialization. The Europeans could just have had a much more efficient way of handling these aspects of life, but Diamond does not talk about that at all. 

Overall however, Diamond does an overwhelmingly good job discussing why the Europeans had an advantage over the rest of the world, as well as why they, before anyone else to become a thriving nation. These reasons included why certain plants and animals were available for domestication, the increase in population, technological development, and lastly, their geographical location.  

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