Friday, May 27, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel

This guy is just amazing in his work. I've never seen such a prolific amount of explanatory power. Essentially his book is about the history of the world, but he's looking at the reasons behind the facts. For example, individual battles and wars are just natural outcomes of other, inner causes and they do not change history on the large scale. It is well known that guns (better and strongest weapons), germs (the defenders had developed no resistance to new diseases) and steel (better equipment & technology) are real the factors that determine the outcome of history. Jared Diamond is trying to explain why some civilizations had these advantages in the first place, which is the true reason beneath all.

The most dramatic encounter in history: the capture of the last independent Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, in the presence of his whole army, by Francisco Pizarro and his tiny band of conquistadores, at the Peruvian city of Cajamarca.

We can identify the chain of proximate factors that enabled Pizarro to capture Atahuallpa, and that operated in European conquests of other Native American societies as well. Those factors included Spanish germs, horses, literacy, political organization, and technology (especially ships and weapons).

That analysis of proximate causes is the easy part of this book; the hard part is to identify the ultimate causes leading to them and to the actual outcome, rather than to the opposite possible outcome of Atahuallpa's coming to Madrid and capturing King Charles I of Spain.

The first thing he discards is the argument that the different outcomes are due to biological reasons (e.g. the Europeans are smarter than Africans or Native Americans). He sets the starting point at 11,000BC, when all continents were just populated without though any apparent differences, strengths or weaknesses of one group of colonists as opposed to another. At that point of history powerful civilizations could potentially develop in all 5 continents. Yet this did not happen, and it did not happen for some reasons, which are coming up in my reading of this book. So exciting!