Unit Two: Global Inequality
An Overview of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel
Why do some nations have so much material wealth while so many others have so little?
This was the question Jared Diamond posed in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel. After identifying a point in time when all societies were roughly equal (over 13,000 years ago), Diamond identified the key variables that allowed some societies to develop highly complex, material-rich societies, while others developed at much slower rates.
Guns, Germs, and Steel uncovers how Europeans came to dominate every ...view middle of the document...
Their lives were tough, and it seemed a terrible paradox of history that these extraordinary people should be the conquered, and not the conquerors.
To examine the reasons for European success, Diamond realized he had to peel back the layers of history and begin his search at a time of equality -- a time when all the peoples of the world lived in exactly the same way.
Geography is Power:
An Interview with Jared Diamond
National Geographic News
July 6, 2005
Why did history unfold differently on different continents? Why has one culture—namely that of Western Europe—dominated the 3development of the modern world?
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that the answer is geography. The physical locations where different cultures have taken root, he claims, have directly affected the ability of those societies to develop key institutions, like agriculture and animal domestication, or to acquire important traits, like immunity to disease.
National Geographic News spoke with professor Diamond about his research.
Why over the past 10,000 years has the development of different societies proceeded at such different rates?
I say the answer is location, location, location. It's overwhelmingly due to the difference in the wild plant and animal species suitable to domestication that the continents made available. All the interesting stuff like technology, writing, and empires requires a productive economy that is producing enough food to feed technological experts, bureaucrats, kings, and scribes. Hunter-gatherer societies don't produce enough food surpluses to support those extra people.
Where did the first farming societies appear?
The first farming, as far as we know, appeared in [the Middle East region known as] the Fertile Crescent some 11,500 years ago, and shortly thereafter in China. These places had the greatest variety of wild plants and animals suitable for domestication. Only a tiny fraction of wild plants and animals were both useful and possible to domesticate. Those few species were concentrated in a few areas, of which the two with the greatest variety were the Fertile Crescent and China.
What were the benefits of the agricultural lifestyle compared to the hunter-gatherer existence?
Farming lets you feed far more people than hunting and gathering. In a one-acre wheat field there's more to eat than in a one-acre forest. In a one-acre sheep pasture, there are more animals to eat than in a one-acre forest. Farming lets you settle down in villages next to your wheat fields and pastures, whereas hunter-gatherers have to move around.
You point out that animals, plants, knowledge and new technology spread much easier east and west rather than north and south.
The reason is easy to understand if one understands...