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The basic question that Diamond is trying to answer in this book is that of why some cultures or countries became strong and rich while others did not. Specifically, he is asking why the Europeans were able to go out and conquer other people back in the age of exploration rather than having those people (like the Incas) go and conquer them.
Diamond's basic thesis is that it is all down to luck. He says that some areas were luckier, geographically speaking. They had geographical advantages that allowed them to develop agriculture first. This allowed them to develop the "guns, germs, and steel" that allowed them to go and conquer the world.
Jared Diamond introduces Guns, Germs, and Steel with a question asked him by Yali, an aboriginal New Guinean leader:
"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?"
The term "cargo" means manufactured goods and other rare and expensive objects. As Diamond reflects on this question, he also becomes curious about the reasons for unequal development in various areas of the world. He mentions that it obviously has nothing to do with hard work or natural ability, as there are both smart and less intelligent and hard-working and lazy people in all cultures and regions.
Diamond's main thesis is that geography and physical environment have, to a large degree, placed constraints upon how societies can develop. He investigates various topics such as the availability of domesticable plants and animals, the barriers to travel to encounter and trade with cultures at the same latitudes, and other characteristics of natural resources and environment to argue his main thesis, that it was differences in external environmental factors, rather than intrinsic superiority, that led certain civilizations to become wealthy and powerful.
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