1-Sentence-Summary: Guns, Germs, and Steel is a multidisciplinary study that employs anthropological, biological, evolutionary, and socio-economic analyses to chart the fates of different peoples throughout human history and understand why some groups succeeded to develop and advance, while others haven’t.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Anthropologist and historian Jared Diamond tackles the questions “Why do some societies thrive while others fail?” and “Why are some people more successful than others?” in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997).
Using a multidisciplinary approach that draws on anthropology, biology, evolution, and socioeconomics, he charts the course of human history from prehistoric times up to the present day. So, why have different groups from various territories skyrocketed in their advancements, while others stagnate even today?
Let’s explore the answers to these questions by looking at three of the most important lessons from the book:
- The origins of the modern world could be traced back to the first form of agriculture in Mesopotamia.
- Languages emerged as a result of keeping records of agricultural work.
- Environmental factors played the biggest role in today’s international discrepancies.
Let’s learn in-depth about human evolution and learn some pretty interesting facts about how we ended up where we are today by looking at each lesson in detail below.
Lesson 1: Mesopotamia was the first region in the world where people started to practice agriculture.
The reason behind some nations’ advanced developments can be traced back to a common, low-interest idea – food. More precisely, it seems that agriculture contributed to the first flourishing societies. In Mesopotamia, archeologists found the first traces of specialized agriculture, followed by China and Mesoamerica.
The first human beings emerged in Africa, but they soon left to spread in search of food and a better life. The first civilizations to differentiate themselves from others used agriculture to develop a better world, around 11,000 years ago. In time, people discovered cooking plants, growing seeds, use animals as sources of food and labor.
All these discoveries helped us reach the state of humanity we know today. Better food meant better health, improved cognitive functions, and more developed society. However, living alongside animals also meant more germs and diseases.
In time, people from those regions grew immune to diseases, while in different parts of the world others were still struggling to grow food and fight minor sicknesses. Their strong immunity was passed down to their children, which fortified our genes in time. Therefore, there is a strong connection between agriculture and our evolution.
Lesson 2: Agriculture gave way for culture and languages to form.
As people started to grow food for more than just themselves and agriculture became the major profession of individuals, there had to be a record-keeping system in place. This is largely how language formed, as communities started collaborating to grow food.
We know that agriculture started in Mesopotamia, and so that’s where the first forms of language emerged. As people were increasingly stronger and more advanced than in other parts of the world, their communication was also fortified by a more active mind and body.
Slowly, they started talking about more than just crops, which is how culture began to take different forms through language.
One interesting fact about our world is that, throughout history, information was diffused from east to west, and rarely the other way around.
This way, agricultural societies helped spread valuable ideas throughout the world while also strengthening their perpetrator status. It is a known fact that agricultural communities were more advanced than simple hunter-gathering societies, which is another reason for their complex development.
Growing food also allowed people to store large quantities for later, which meant more free time for them to explore other areas of life. Increasingly, culture grew stronger and larger in these places of the world, paving the way for future states and complex communities to form.
Lesson 3: People evolved differently because of the environmental factors around them, not due to biological differences.
There’s been a general misconception traveling around the world for a long time that certain ethnicities, races, or nationalities are simply smarter or better than others. As proof, the followers of such misbeliefs often point toward the great development of the named countries, as opposed to their not-so-fortunate neighbors.
Looking back in history, we can notice how the first signs of developed societies date back to the Middle East, Northern Asia, and even Africa. As migration occurred from East to West, new societies discovered ideas and trends, which led to a new form of evolution.
With all this information on hand, people were only going up. However, some ascended faster than others, and for a reason. Many societies found themselves next to natural resources like metals, precious stones, and rivers, while others faced drought, steep land, and poverty. The battle that was about to come was unfair.
Naturally, there is a debate between historians and researchers who believe whether nations settled next to these resources evolved due to environmental favoritism or not. Because not all these communities grew so successful, there must have been something else projecting them so up high.
Still, the general opinion is that it is not intelligence. Some people had to find ways to survive and thrive in a hunting environment, while others didn’t. With so many variables on hand, it is hard to decide which factors played the most important roles – yet one thing is for sure: the environment shaped today’s nations as we know them.
Guns, Germs, and Steel Review
Guns, Germs, and Steel focus on the different environments and geographic locations where people have lived and how this has affected their advancement of technology.
The book is a masterpiece of comparative history. On one level, it provides an absorbing account of the rise of European power and dominance.
On another level, it is a synthesis of the latest thinking about humankind’s relationship with the planet — its land, geology, climate, and animal life which have all contributed to shaping our fates and destinies.
Who would I recommend the Guns, Germs, and Steel summary to?
The 27-year-old person who is passionate about science and history, the 45-year-old historian who loves a good lecture, or the 38-year-old person who wants to read about the history of the world and the evolution of humans.