How does Jared Diamond define "east–west axis" and "north–south axis" in Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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Among the many claims that Diamond makes in Guns, Germs, and Steel is the argument that the development of agriculture occurred first in Eurasia because those continents lie on an east-west axis instead of a north-south one. He directly addresses this issue in Chapter Ten. Looking at a world map or a globe, it is easy to see what Diamond means by this:

The Americas span a much greater distance north-south (9,000 miles) than east-west: only 3,000 miles at the widest . . .That is, the major axis of the Americas is north-south. The same is true, though to a less extreme degree, for Africa. In contrast, the major axis of Eurasia is east-west.

Diamond argues that this had major consequences for the spread and development of agriculture. Because Eurasia has a longer east-west axis than north-south, much of its expanse lies within similar latitudes that therefore have similar climates. Therefore they had similar wild flora and fauna (Diamond cites the example of flax, which grows wild from Britain to North Africa.) More importantly, crops that will grow in one area will also grow in other areas at similar latitudes. This enabled crops to spread throughout Eurasia, making it easier for settled societies to grow there.

In Africa and the Americas, on the other hand climate and geographic features, like deserts and mountain ranges, tended to isolate one region from another. This made it more difficult for agricultural practices based on certain crops to spread. So, in short, the orientation of the continents was very significant in human history according to Diamond.

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Diamond defines the different shapes and sizes of the continents using the word "axis." He writes that Eurasia has a longer east–west axis, while the Americas have a longer north–south axis. This means that Eurasia stretches to a greater extent from east to west, while the Americas stretch more from north to south. He posits that the spread of agriculture, trade, and ideas is facilitated along an east–west axis much more easily than along a north–south axis, meaning that there is a greater connection among crops grown in areas that are contiguous, or next to each other, in an east–west direction, than there is among areas that are contiguous in a north–south direction. Therefore, the spread of crops and agricultural advancements in Eurasia was faster and easier than in the Americas.

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Whether you agree with Diamond or not, his theory is interesting in providing a likely explanation of the development of our species.  It is what we now call 'big history' (the big picture), rather than traditional history which concentrates on documented sources.

As other's have pointed out, Diamond theorizes that human civilization is strongly a product of geography.  In this way, Diamond's ideas can be said to be deterministic.  For example, topography and climate will guide (or separate) human groups, either aiding or limiting the spread of ideas and developments.

The argument goes that Eurasia with its open plains and east-west orientation permitted the spread of people's and agriculture.  By contrast, the other continents with their north-south orientation meant that topographical barriers (Rockies, Andes) and climatic bands (Amazon Rainforest, Sahara) limited the spread and diffusion of migration and therefore ideas (and of course microbes!).

I hope that helps enough for you to understand Diamond's thesis a little better.

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