Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Hey All,

I have another book review for you today. If you like these types of posts, here is the whole list of all my book reviews for your binging pleasure. I am sure there a some key things I will miss, but i am jotting down what stood out to me. As always there will be spoilers in this post so if you don’t want that, come back here after you have read the book. So now let’s get into it.

Initially, I had an interest in this book from an economical standpoint due to my fascination with Modern Monetary Theory (sorry lady’s I am taken). But I learned a lot more than economics. Overall, I really enjoyed the writing of the author due to the fact, he does not speak in definitive language. And with some topics the author will say both sides of the story. After all, “history” is not always written by those who are right. It’s usually written by those who won. Nuance is important to remember when studying history because omission or biases can intentionally, or unintentionally slip-in based on the narrative one may want to push. The problem, some historians or writers can become the alleged “truth” they share as their identity. Once this happens, they no longer are interested in continuing to find newer information but defend a position as some sort of apologist. See post on rational thinking here.

Here’s an example, just because the oldest evidence of human civilization was found in Africa does not necessarily mean, human origin began in the African continent. It just means that what we found in Africa is the oldest evidence we have. New evidence could always arise. When I was younger I heard all the time that Christopher Columbus was the first to cross the ocean and discover the new world. Until new evidence showed us otherwise. Do not let historians editorialize data, and trick you into reading propaganda masquerading as truth.

Now my list

In no particular order, below are a few notes that I wanted to point out from this great book. Each point listed may not necessarily be reliant on the prior step. But certainly each line item in this list compliment each other. Which only serves the right populations an extreme advantage at times. You will notice a theme.

  1. Civilizations that don’t adapt productive technology usually become victims of such technology by other countries. I use the word “productive” as a placeholder for progressive technology (not in the political sense). But in the sense that it moved humans to the next level. Think Guns, Steel, etc. Those who adapted to guns with zeal, ruled over those who failed to do so.
  2. Geography and environment play a HUGE role in determining outcomes. This was an amazing insight that answered a lot of questions I’ve had for years. I always wondered why the largest continent Eurasia (Europe and Asia are mentioned as one large land mass in this book), which always appears to be at war with it’s parts, dominated the rest of the world throughout history. In short, the longest stretch of similar latitude (Ireland to Japan) plays a role. In terms of a civilization’s progression, West to East is more important than North to South (Eurasia having the longer X axis compared to the dominate Y axis in the western hemisphere). The longer west to east land mass is important because the similar climate led to more productivity. Example, knowledge (think inventions) could be shared faster in larger quantities since Eurasia has the largest population of all the continents. Needed calories could be grown on the vast nutrient dense lands of similar climate, and tools needed to make life easier were also shared across similar culture which is to say nothing about the needed ports to ship goods. While on the topic of culture, mountains usually separate people groups, and cause us to be dissimilar. But trade (think silk road) helps facilitate tolerance therefore, the largest land mass in the world, with the largest populations bent momentum in the right direction. Like anything in life, the more brains you throw at a problem, the greater the chance you have of solving it. And the less time it takes to feed your population the more you can innovate. Sadly, those civilizations who spend the majority of their day feeding themselves, well they fall victim to step 1 because they are too busy to innovate.
  3. The natural large beasts of Eurasia allow a civilization to leverage the strength of the animals for farming, traveling, and high calorie dense meals. There are even cases where large animals played a role as a military tool allowing large populations to not only have an upper-hand in offense, but also logistics from a supply chain management perspective (battles may be won by the strongest offense but wars are won by logistics). Most of the smaller countries don’t appear to have large mammals for whatever reason leaving them at a disadvantage throughout history.
  4. Reliance on political entities can lead to a giant single point of failure. This one is less intuitive than you think. But there is a great breakdown between a band of people vs. a tribe explained in this book. Essentially, when you have a political class established within the larger groups of folks (say a tribe for example) the political class inevitably becomes some sort of dynasty. Instead of serving the population they make laws to benefit their legacy/relatives. We call this corruption. When a civilization finds themselves in a position to rely on their corrupt leaders for their basic services, the leaders eventually fail thus the civilization usually falls victim to the whims of a stronger population. Now, I am going to take a small deviation here from my list. I wrote about this in my supply chain post here. But in summary, a countries weak point is at their level of consumption. Do your basic necessities to sustain life, or defend yourself rely on your trade with another entity that may see the world different than you? One may think I am talking about the United States and our dependence on China for imports. But that is beyond my control for the most part. What is in my control is my personal ability to grow food and be financially self-reliant. Should my zip code become unsustainable (think crime, inflation, etc) I can just move. If I make my family (which is a micro-country) reliant on my current zip code, I am stuck should things go wrong. Of course there is a balance to everything, I am not saying we need to become Amish (although they are growing at a faster birth rate then the average American) but the less reliant on political services, the better off I am when said political services inevitably fail.
  5. Farmer vs hunter gatherer. Oh my is this last point especially relevant in such times. Where to start, first the farmer populations have a giant advantage over the hunter gather populations because they typically grow more people. By now you should have a rough idea of all the advantages of a larger population. Which begs the question, should we expect an Amish revolution in the future? Kidding aside, we already mentioned the many benefits of more people. But there is another thing we have not mentioned. That is, larger populations give way to more germs. More germs means more anti-bodies. You may have read about germs and their role during the Spanish colonization of the Americas where most of the indigenous populations picked up diseases from the Europeans and those same diseases did not seem to negatively affect the Eurasian visitors. But the author also points out, most of the deaths during WW2 were due to disease. Which only begs the question in times of a pandemic, which act plays a more important role. Should we a, shut everything down, and hand over the economy to the trusty politicians so we can “stay-home” to “stop the spread”, or b, focus on herd immunity. You decide. Lastly on this topic. Farmers also have the supply chain advantage over the hunter gatherer communities where food, knowledge, skills and everything else follows.

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