Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Jared Diamond. W. W. Norton & Company.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Book Cover Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond
W. W. Norton & Company

Why did Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this groundbreaking book, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for history’s broadest patterns. Here, at last, is a world history that really is a history of all the world’s peoples, a unified narrative of human life even more intriguing and important than accounts of dinosaurs and glaciers.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, paths of development of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of all plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China, Mesoamerica, the southeastern United States, and other areas gave people’s of those regions a head start. Why wheat and corn, cattle and pigs, and the modern world’s other “blockbuster” crops and livestock arose in those particular regions and not elsewhere was, until now, but faintly understood.

The localized origins of farming and herding, prove to be only part of the explanation for the differing fates of different peoples. The very unequal rates at which food production spread from those initial centers had much to do with other features of climate and geography – such as the differing sizes, locations, and even shapes of the continents. Societies that advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage were more likely to develop writing, technology, government, organized religions – as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war.

It was those societies, adventuring on sea and land, that expanded to new homelands at the expense of other peoples. Most familiar examples involve the conquest of non-European peoples by Europeans in the last 500 years, beginning with voyages in search of precious metals and spices and often leading to invasion of native lands and decimation of native inhabitants through slaughter and introduced diseases. Similar population replacements, less familiar to American readers, unfolded earlier within Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and other parts of the world.

A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world, and its inequalities, came to be. It is a work rich in dramatic revelations that will fascinate readers even as it challenges conventional wisdom.

Jared Diamond, professor of physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine, is the author of the bestselling and award-winning The Third Chimpanzee, about which Diane Ackerman has written: “Wonderful.… Through insight and illumination, Jared Diamond conducts his fascinating study of our behavior and origins with a naturalist’s eye and a philosopher’s cunning.”

Jared Diamond began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He is been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and has received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and the Burr award of the National Geographic Society. He has published over 200 articles in Discover, Natural History, Nature, and Geo magazines.