Guns, Germs, and Steel Book Summary

Instructor: Sharon Powell
This lesson is a summary of Jared Diamond's book, 'Guns, Germs and Steel'. In this lesson, Diamond's anthropological theory-- that history unfolds upon differently for people based upon their geographic location-- will be discussed.

How Humans Got Their Start

Jared Diamond begins his book, fittingly, at the beginning of human life, in approximately 11,000 B.C. It was then that 'Great Leap Forward' occurred. Evolution is the first topic of discussion, and Diamond argues that humans had the advantage over other life forms as a result of the timing of evolution. In addition, he breaks the human advantage down continent by continent and argues that an observer transported back in time to 11,000 B.C could not have predicted which specific continent that human life would have first developed on, but could have made a strong case for any one of them.

Farming and Food Production

Diamond contends there were a number of varying factors that determined the growth and survival of a group of people. Food production was an all-important reason for the progress of one group over another. In Africa, parts of the Americas, and Eurasia, farming--both plant and animal domestication--led to denser human populations than did the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The first farming region was in the Middle Eastern area, known as the Fertile Crescent.

Diamond argues that farming leads to a settled existence, which then results in the development of a food surplus. This food surplus--and who controlled it--was the beginning of the inequalities of power and wealth in the modern world. Food production was thus the key to other developments, such as more sophisticated technology, as well as writing, religion, and germs.

Conquest: Technology and Disease

The conquest of the Americas--specifically Pizarro's Conquistadors over that of the Incas--had more to do with epidemiology than it did military prowess. Pizarro and his men brought with them European diseases, like smallpox, which was devastating to the Incan population, as they had not built up any form of resistance to the disease. Diamond identifies numerous additional advantages that Europeans had over the inhabitants of the Americas: technological advances, like modern weaponry, and the domestication of animals.

In the battle of Cajamarca, in what is now modern-day Peru, 80,000 Inca soldiers Spaniards fought 169 Spaniards. Within the first ten minutes there were 7,000 Incas dead. This was due to the fact that the Spanish troops possessed steel swords, while the Incans were battling with wooden clubs. While epidemiology had a large role in the downfall of the Incans, the Spanish weaponry placed an integral role in decreasing the Incas population.

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