Guns, Germs and Steel

The expanded title reads :
Guns, Germs and Steel : A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
And it could not be more correct. In less than 500 pages, the author takes you on a whirlwind tour of how civilization emerged in all continents, and how the local geography, flora and fauna affected the development of complex societies throughout the world.

It examines various historic events, figures out the causes behind them and then tries to perform a scientific analysis of the origin of those causes.

It starts with the main factor behind origin of civilizations – food production. It examines how food production independently arose in different regions at different times. It then examines how and why it spread quickly across the vast continent of Eurasia and resulted in development of complex societies, but spread much slowly in the Americas and Africa, hence resulting in slower development.

Having food production as the foundation of development, it examines how some societies developed diseases (germs), and some did not, and how something as simple as germs resulted in wipe out of entire native populations, with the rapid European conquest of the Americas and Australia while resulting in a failure of colonization of Africa till much later. It digs deep o find out why such germs developed only in certain societies and not in others.

It also examines in detail the entire chain of evolution of civilization, starting from a tribe, leading on to a chiefdom, then a kingdom and finally becoming a nation state. It identifies how civilizations evolve from an egalitarian model into a kleptocracy with multiple class divisions as the population increases.

This is only a small snapshot of the book’s scope, it goes much deeper and wider to compile nearly entire history of human civilizations and how and why some of them succeeded while others failed. It goes behind the science of it all to explain how and why history unfolded the way they did, completely changing the study of history to be a scientific subject rather than one of humanities.

The author Jared Diamond is a maverick academic. He started his career in the biological sciences, becoming the Professor of Physiology at UCLA med school in 1966. He then switched to ecology and evolutionary biology, gaining fame for his explorations of remote parts of New Guinea in late 1970s. He then developed a third career in environmental history, becoming Professor of Geography and Environmental sciences at UCLA.

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