Guns, Germs and Steel


Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond tries to answer a fundamental question: Why did history unfold differently on different continents. In dismissing any racial superiority of humans of one region over the other the author takes up the challenge of explaining the root cause of the difference that we find today. Since the end of the last ice age about 13,000 years ago different parts of the world have evolved in a very contrasting ways. From being hunter gatherers humans in some parts of the world evolved to non literate farming societies and in some other parts progressed into literate industrialized communities with metal tools. Some remained hunter gatherers. The book tackles in very engaging way the question of why and how peoples of Eurasia had the head start in the race of human progress and went on to conquer and dominate regions like Africa, Americas and Aboriginal Australia.

The book which has the subtitle, “a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years”, tries to seek by means of rigorous analysis the ultimate factors that gave rise to proximate causes which in turn affected the course of history. It establishes that the environmental differences were the ultimate factor responsible for the diversification of the continents. The geography of Eurasia was such that it aided plant and animal domestication and farming. A community which starts food production rapidly evolves into a community of large, dense, sedentary, stratified societies. Owing to east/west orientation of continental axis of Eurasia the developments spread easier and rapidly as environmental conditions are more or less the same across the continent. Contrasting this with north/south orientation of Americas and Africa we find that variation in the geography hinders the spread of species and skills developed in one region to spread to other easily. Large population has the advantages that it can develop technology like guns and steel much more easily than distributed and isolated societies. Political organization and writing is the later logical outcome of it. There is also the other factor of germs having evolved from domesticated animals in Eurasia and its population over the years gaining immunity to those. And hence Eurasians armed with their guns, germs and steel went on to conquer other less blessed continents. Guns were no match to stone and primitive tools, germs carried by Eurasians unleashed epidemic of great proportions which resulted in disappearance of native communities in other continents in a limited time span. Steel and technology enabled Eurasians to establish their rule in new world in quick time and oppress the disadvantaged easily.

In the above paragraph, I have taken the liberty to put things in very broad terms what the author has painstakingly explained in the book with scientific rigour. I request that one should read the book to find out how and why various factors had affected the human history.

I found the book very engaging. The book which had me riveted with its initial chapter progresses with lot of intricate details which at times was difficult to read through. However this isn’t a novel and I appreciate the author for his efforts in narrating the history of a long timescale effectively. If you find the title and the subtitle inviting then I say, please indulge. You will not be disappointed.

Being Free.