Reading Now! Guns Germs & Steel


I started reading (birthday present) “Guns Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years by Jared Diamond, about 3 weeks ago. Normally I read quite fast and initially that was the case with this book. But I am now beginning to really struggle to get it finished.

The back cover blurb “an enquiry into the reasons why Europe and the near East became the cradle of modern socieities – eventually giving rise to capitalism and science – and why, until recent times, Africa, Australasia and the Americas lagged behind in technological sophistication and in political and military power. The native people of those countries are still suffering the consequences”

OK sounded interesting and initially it was going to into great detail about the various theories on the origin of man and how since we all started in one place (Africa). How first large mamals and then humans spread throughout the world. Next he goes on to talk about why some people developed from hunter gathers to farmers and why certain plants becamed agriculturised and how this influecned how societies developed and were organised.
His chapter “Collision at Cajamarca” is very interesting. He asks the question “Why did Pizarro (of Spain) capture Atahualpa (the Inca emperor) in 1532″ and also why Atahualpa did not travel to Spain and capture the King of Spain instead. Its one of those that once you have read it you realise you knew it all along. Also his bits about the relationship between disease and conquest.

I started to get lost when he goes into too much detail about why zebras were not domesticated whilst cows were or why apples were and some other fruit wasnt. Some of it is interesting eg his theories around why the region known as the “fertile crescent” (present day, syria, Iraq) develop writing, sophisticated social organisations and economies etc. But I am struggling with all this stuff about why this animal developed into whatever and this fruit or vegetable.

The only think that keeps me going on this one is I am waiting for the punch line – what’s the story on Africa??

updates later

Finally managed to finish the book. Diamond tries his best to provide an explanation as to why the “have nots” are have nots and why the “haves” are haves. But he never really gets beyond “people who, by accident of their geographic location, inherited or developed food production thereby became able to engulf geographically less endowed people. ”

I kept waiting for something more than “food production”. But thats what it all boils down to. Organised food production led to “high population densities, germs, technology, political organisation, and other ingredients of power”.

So in sub-Saharan Africa, crops were limited to below the Sahel and above the equator, the rest of Africa did not grow crops (we are taking 1000s BC here) also no domesticated animals. Finally Africa’s north south axis which is the longest in the world was an inpediment to the spread of, crops, domesticated animals, live stock etc. Whist EuroAsia’s East – West axis was the opposite allowing the spread of crops, domesticated animals and technology.