My Summary of Guns, Germs, and Steel

2008 September 20

I should’ve have written this two months ago — right after I had finished the book —  when everything was fresh in my mind. As it is, I’m pretty surprised that this book won a Pulitzer Prize. Not that I know anything about the Pulitzer Prize, but I didn’t think this ambitious historical and geographical book was all that great. One of my history professors didn’t seem too enamored with it, either. Jared Diamond should stick to those Subway commercials. I’m not quite sure why I should bother to write this, as anyone can just check it out on WIkipedia, but I feel like I can give my own entertaining and educational summary of this book. And I haven’t written anything related to print media in a long while.

If you think Europeans became the dominant group in humanity because of superior genes, you’re an ignorant asshole. Eurasia — in case you didn’t realize, Europe and Asia are really one big landmass — had the advantages when it came to large domesticable animals and crops. Not to mention the proximity to the birthplace of humanity in Africa. You may think Africa would’ve become the center of human civilization since we originated there, but that continent’s animals don’t take kindly to domestication. And it’s pretty fucking hot there, if you didn’t notice. 

The orientation of continents also plays a role, as Eurasia spans mostly east-west, while the others span mostly north-south. Australia doesn’t count. They were still in the Stone Age when England decided to ship criminals there because farming wasn’t particularly advantageous compared to hunting. Even though I saw multiple hilarious pictures of Aborigines in Guns, Germs, and Steel, I still think of The Road Warrior when I hear Australia. I try to imagine cool shit like that occurs all the time in the middle of the continent, unbeknowst to the civilized people on the coasts. 

(You can stretch those last two paragraphs to about 200 pages.)

Even though Europe eventually became the center of civilization, for arguably a bigger portion of human history the Middle East has served as the hub for human advancement, as evidenced by the Babylon, Egypt (might as well be the MIddle East), Persia, and the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The Middle East used to be the Fertile Crescent! But then the farming capabilities of the area were decimated by desertification to create the hell that many people now consider the Middle East to be. Dubai is trying to change that by going SimCity all over everyone’s ass, but we’ll see how that turns out. Their financial planner is probably popping up every 2 minutes to annoy the shit out of them. If it weren’t for the desertification, the Middle East could easily still be the dominant force in the world, with the rest of us resorting to terrorist attacks on them. And Israel would certainly not exist. The Middle East — in addition to its head start in terms of native crops and animals — has central location in between Europe, Asia, and Africa, creating a whirlwind of cultural diffusion. And we all learned in school how cool and helpful cultural diffusion is! If only they knew of the growing menace that is anime…

And oh yeah, China was always so isolated because of geography. Actually, that’s just the whole book in a nutshell. GEOGRAPHY. Maybe already knowing my geography fairly well diminished the amount of satisfaction I could’ve possibly garnered from this book. Ok, so there was actually some discussion of social evolution in terms of different sizes of human groups, but I just did not find it all that enthralling. If you’re into reading about how a tribe handles growing from 5,000 to 20,000, maybe this is the book for you. I rather just read my 322nd science-fiction story in a row. More Philip K. Dick here I come!

Oh wait, I need to study financial mathematics instead. :(

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  • jared diamond

    very informative thank you