Sometimes when you’re at the cash register, you impulsively buy a candy bar or some gum, or one of those soap opera digests, or a tabloid with a picture of some movie star’s unsightly cellulite on the cover, or something like that. Well, when you’re in the gift shop of the Carlos Museum at Emory, they don’t have any of that stuff. So instead, you grab the book from the stack that’s sitting next to the register and buy it.
That book is “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies“, by Jared Diamond, which won the Pulitzer Prize (I think because they wanted to give the award to someone with a hair band name).
The book attempts to answer the question of why certain societies flourished during the course of human history, while others either vanished or languished. If you don’t want to know the answer, stop reading right now, because I’m gonna tell you. In approximately three million fewer words than Mr. Diamond used.
Geography and meteorology are the main culprits. Basically, all humans are created equal, but the ones that started out in certain areas that were home to domesticable plants and animals got a huge head start on everyone else because they could develop food production. Food production lets a group of people abandon their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and sit around inventing stuff. It also means that people hang out with domesticable animals, from which they catch microbes and develop restistances. Then when they go to another part of the world and cough on someone, that person gets sick and dies. And if they don’t get sick and die from germs that they’re not used to, they get killed with one of the fancy guns that the visitor invented before he came over. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Apparently the Fertile Crescent and parts of China were the best places to get started, while Australia was pretty much the worst. Interesting factoid: did you know that Cro-Magnon man was way more sophisticated than Neanderthal man? Neither did I, and I’d been badmouthing Cro-Magnon all this time.
All kidding aside, it’s a pretty fascinating concept and an interesting book. But it sure has a lot of words in it.