As I began reading this book, the question I wanted to focus on quickly came to mind, “Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way?” More specifically, “Why weren’t Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?” Before reading this book, I could still give you a simple answer to this question without doing any research. The people of Europe and Asia, developed language, technology and civilization before groups such as Native Americans did. And not only were they the first to discover these things, they also got to the people of Australia and America before they too had a chance for discovery. I also knew that this answer alone wasn’t justification for why things are the way they are today, sure ‘westerners’ discovered these things first, but how actually did this happen. I learned it has much more to do with how humans developed physiologically, historically, and culturally, but even an answer such as that does not do justice, for there are so many things that led to the people we are today. The frustrating thing I learned about this book and answers to mine and Jared Diamonds questions, were that there isn’t one answer that can explain why things are the way they are. The best way I understood this book was knowing that every little choice that the first people made on this earth, where they lived, what they ate, the animals they were surrounded with, the temperature, and the thousands of other differences that seem minute led people to be who they are today. I will now attempt to give you examples of these little differences so that you can understand how people got to where they’re at today, but to best understand it you will need to read this fascinating book.
Let’s look at the people of the Americas compared to their European counter parts first. The people of the Bahamas and other southern islands, were still using primitive stone tools when the first Europeans arrived with huge ships and steel. Could something as simple as temperature explain this? Through thousands of years living the people who resided in these islands had little to worry about weather wise. They could stay outside all day, hunt, fish, gather, never did they have to go inside for long periods of time with nothing but their own mind. Now let’s look at the Europeans, 4 months out of the year, for thousands of years, these people would have to sit inside and think. What else is there do when there is little entertainment? Did the Europeans get the advantage because they had more time think and in turn, turn those thoughts into inventions? While just looking at these two groups alone, this explanation seems to make sense. Now lets go to the other side of the globe in Africa, at this time, Africans are experiencing similar temperatures have had steel and civilizations for some time now, so it now seems temperature cannot account for the differences.
If it wasn’t temperature that gave these first groups a leg up, was it rivers? In the Fertile Crescent, Europe, and in the Americas, many civilizations popped up lining the rivers. A flowing river makes irrigation much easier for farming, which is very essential in the becoming of a civilization. So then why weren’t the aboriginals of Australia building civilizations at this time, there were plenty along the river? Does this now disprove the river theory?
Another way to look at these differences is to look directly at the many biological differences in the rise of civilization. With Western culture leading the influence throughout the past 1,000 years, it should be easy to say that race played a part in the rise and demise of people. Fortunately, that is even easier to disprove, the first civilizations were nowhere near Europe and came about in today’s middle east and Africa. So now we know it wasn’t western culture that made the difference.
As I kept reading this book looking for the answer to why people are the way they are today. I kept reading theory after theory, only for the author to disprove them. It wasn’t until I started to blog about this book about half way through it, that I began to notice a pattern. Although something such as biological reasons were very easy to disprove, the geological ones, i.e. river valleys, climate, location, etc. were actually what caused us to be the way we are today. Sure there isn’t one geological factor that you can look at across the board, but that’s because I was forgetting about the diversity of every group. The reason I couldn’t apply climate to the Africans is because they are so much different than the people of the Bahamas. They have different food sources, different plants, different needs, but these many geological differences are still what led people to be who they are today. There is no one group of people who went through the same thing, but its what was around them that got them where they are now.
Overall, Guns, Germs, and Steel was a great book. Not only did I get an understanding of why I am the way I am today, but more importantly on my quest to answer these questions I learned about the history of man kind. I’ve always been a person who needs an explanation to why things are the way they are, this book went above and beyond, answering questions I’d had never even thought of. I highly suggest this book to anyone who likes history or looks to understand the world around them.