Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guns, Germs and Steel

Bill Gates said he was blown away by Guns, Germs and Steel. Charlie Munger also recommends it. I couldn't agree more.

Jared Diamond takes a close look at why Europeans were able to conquer North America and other regions of the globe. Obviously, it's because they had the guns, the horses and the immunity to some important germs that otherwise decimated their opponents. But Diamond doesn't stop at this well-known yet simplistic viewpoint. He peels the onion to its core to figure out why Europeans had these advantageous elements.

The commonly accepted racist component is dismissed right at the outset. Diamond discusses separations of people of the same ethnic groups, and how these have resulted in vastly different societies with different levels of technological sophistication and immunities.

Now that we know where the technological differences don't come from, where do they come from? Diamond's findings are fascinating. For one thing, successful societies are those where food production is specialized, freeing up others to focus on other tasks, like military, tool-making etc.

But why did some societies specialize while others remained nomadic hunter-gatherers? Diamond peels back the onion further, looking at soil quality around the world, the availability of edible plants, the availability of domesticable animals (for both meat and to power farming productivity), geography (for instance, knowledge of successful crops tended to spread east-west because daylight hours remain consistent along that axis, which increases the chances that a seed will grow outside its home base) and a slew of other factors. Diamond then takes this framework he has developed and applies it to societies around the world as they were when the peoples of various continents collided.

If you enjoy history and this topic interests you, I highly recommend the book. And by the way, if you like this book, I suspect you will also enjoy 1493.

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