In Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel what do you disagree about in Chapters 5 and 10?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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On eNotes, we ask that you submit one question at a time.  I will therefore present the ideas of one of these chapters.  In this answer, I will tell you what Diamond says in Chapter 5 of Guns, Germs, and Steel and allow you to decide for yourself which aspects of his argument you agree with.

Chapter 5 is a difficult to agree or disagree with because Diamond is not making much of an argument in the chapter.  He starts by saying that he wants to know why places like Iraq got agriculture first when they have more hostile environments than places that did not get it, like France or California.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with a discussion of how we know which areas started farming first, how we know that, and how farming then spread to other regions.  In other words, it is a chapter that presents scientific fact rather than opinion.  Let us look at what he says in the chapter that you could agree or disagree with.

  • On pp. 97-8, he asks how we decide whether a plant or animal found in the fossil record was domesticated in the place where it was found or whether it was domesticated elsewhere and brought to the place it was found.  He says there are two ways to do this.  First, you can look at a map to see where the domesticated plant’s wild ancestor occurs.  You can assume that it where the plant was domesticated.  A second method is to say that the plant was domesticated wherever the earliest example of that plant has been found.  Do you agree that these are two good ways to determine where a given plant or animal was domesticated?
  • Diamond argues that farming can spread from place to place by two ways.  First, people in one area can start farming by getting domesticated plants and animals from neighboring regions voluntarily.  Second, people can become farmers if they are conquered by farming societies.  Do you agree?  Can you think of other ways?
  • On p. 102, Diamond says that Egypt developed farming by borrowing plants and animals that were domesticated in neighboring countries.  He says we can tell this because the Egyptians gradually added plants and animals from the Fertile Crescent and phased out the wild plants and animals they had been eating.  He says this proves Egyptians borrowed farming rather than being conquered by farmers.  If they had been conquered by farmers, their diet would have changed all of a sudden, not gradually.  He says the same is true of the Atlantic Coast of Europe, Southern Africa, and the Southwest US.  Do you agree that the gradual adoption of foreign plants and animals proves the people of these places were not conquered by farmers?
  • On p. 103, Diamond says that southeastern and central Europe underwent the opposite process.  He says that there was “an abrupt onset of food production…and of pottery making.”  To him, this proves that farming got to these areas through conquest.  Do you agree?

These are the parts of the chapter that are subject to discussion/argument.  Which part(s) do you agree with?

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