DIAMOND, J. (1998), “Guns, Germs, and Steel: a Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years”, Vintage Random House, London.

  1. Question: “Why did history unfold differently on different continents?”

  2. Yali's question (p14):
    “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own”

  3. “Why were Europeans, rather than Africans or Native Americans, the ones to end up with guns, the nastiest germs, and steel?”

  4. Summarising sentence (p25):
“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

-        [Comment] At very long-term level yes, but at shorter-term level not true: Once Europeans acquired GGS and colonised the world, history unfolded differently for black African slaves than for 'white' Arabs, partly due to their biological differences (strength, skin colour), which, of course, are in the end due to differences in environment. That is, the book merely answers the question why history unfolded differently for the different continents but has little to say about the respective peoples (notably why Europe instead of China ended up dominant)

Part 1: “From Eden to Cajamarca”
–What's the situation, How do we analyse it, and what can we do with the analysis?

Chapter 1 (p35-52):
Defines the starting point, what is the environmental status of the continents and what are the characteristics of the peoples on them at the end of the last Ice Age, 13,000 years ago?
-Extermination of large wild animals in Australia 40,000 years ago.
-Extermination of most large wild animals in Americas by Clovis hunters 11,000 B.C.
-Genetic diversity highest in Africa

Chapter 2 (p53-66):
Introduces the mode of analysis, by looking at the effects of environmental differences among Pacific Islands on the Ancestral Polynesian people, who colonised them. Argues that these differences (p58 Island climate, Geological type, Marine resources, Area, Terrain fragmentation, Isolation) lead to the colonisers developing types of societies ranging from hunter-gathers (low-population density or size) to proto-empires (high population density or size).

Chapter 3 (67-82):
Analyses the proximate causes of the capture the Inca emperor Atahuallpa in the presence of his 80,000 man strong army by Pizarro and a mere 168 other Spaniards. Sets out to analyse the ultimate causes of the Spanish having horses, nastier germs (killing about 95% of the pre-Columbian natives), literacy (information: model capture after Cortès' with the Aztecs), better political organisation, and better technology (the proximate causes).

Part 2: “The rise and spread of food production”
        -The most important constellation of ultimate causes.

Chapter 4 (85-92):
How the ultimate factor of food production (herding/agriculture) lead to the proximate causes of Atahuallpa's capture.
Problems with food species: Indigestable, poisonous, small nutritious value, tedious to prepare, difficult to gather, or dangerous to hunt. àDomestication animals
food, power, fertiliser, transport, weapons of war
  • Settlement
  • à
    allows storage of food surpluses and shorter birth interval
    higher population density (germs) and specialists (soldiers, bureaucrats, scientists)

    Chapter 5 (93-103):
    How different peoples did or did not acquire food production: why not in the world's most fertile regions? Food production only invented independently in few areas, then spread.

    Chapter 6 (104-113):
    Derives the factors behind the shift from the hunter-gathering life-style to food production. Early farmers were smaller and less-well-nourished and worked harder than the hunter-gatherers they replaced. Being sedentary need not lead to adoption food-production and vice versa.
    Reasons shift competitive advantage:
    1. Decline availability of wild foods.
    2. Increase in availability of domesticable wild plants
    3. Cumulative development of food production technology
    4. Rise food production <> rise population density
    5. à autocatalytic process
    Hunter-gatherers could persist in fertile regions because of ecological barriers preventing the spread of crops (axes)

    Chapter 7 (114-130):
            How crops and livestock became domesticated

    Chapter 8 (131-156)
    Our failure to domesticate any new major food plant in modern times suggests our ancestors domesticated all worthwhile ones, hence there was a problem of availability of suitable plants not of cultural/racial ignorance of our ancestors. Also, there is a need for a rich mix of domesticable plant crops in order to persuade hunter-gathers to switch life-styles. Eurasia has overwhelmingly more (domesticable) rich plant species than the other continents. Theory of competition between peoples to yield crop adoption or displacement in presence of cultural inertia.

    Chapter 9 (157-175)
    Features of domesticable animals: herbivorous diet, growth rate, captive breeding, nasty disposition, tendency to panic, social structure. Major animals: Cow, Sheep, Pig, Goat, and Horse.

    Chapter 10 (176-192)
    How food production spread –continental axes (that is geo-climatic orientation of the continents: Eurasia has a large landmass with similar geo-climatic features promoting the spread of crops and animals and by lack of ecological barriers technology.)

    Part 3: "From food production to Guns, Germs, and Steel”
            -From ultimate cause to proximate cause

    Chapter 11 (195-214):
    The evolution of (epidemic) germs –animal herding and population density (epidemic spreads quickly, is acute, and we develop antibodies). Farming and cities greatly promoted development of disease, which could not exist in hunter-gatherer societies. Developed from animal herds.

    Chapter 12 (215-238):
    The evolution of writing –administration (ancient writing was for the enslavement of other humans). Food-production and social evolution were essential for development of writing.

    Chapter 13 (239-264):
    Development of technology –specialisation, invention, innovation, implementation: economic advantage, social value and prestige, vested interests, ease with which advantages can be observed. Differences in receptivity: long life expectancy (skill/knowledge accumulation of inventors/innovators), property rights, war. Sedentary living essential for technology production.

    Chapter 14 (265-292):
            Development of bureaucracy and political organisation

    Part 4: “Around the World in Five Chapters”
            -Applying the theory to the five continents, a practical test.

    Chapter 15 (295-321):
            Australia –why Aboriginal Australians remained hunter-gatherers

    Chapter 16 (322-333)
    China –collisions between East Asian peoples, why the South-Chinese replaced indigenous hunter-gatherers.

    Chapter 17 (334-353)
            Polynesia –the Austronesian expansion

    Chapter 18 (354-375)
    Collision between Europeans and Native-Americans –continental differences in domesticable plants and animals, germs, times of settlement, continental axes, and ecological barriers.         

    Chapter 19 (376-402)
    Sub-Saharan Africa –Why Africans are black and Europeans did not settle widely on the African continent.