What is Diamond's overall argument in Guns, Germs, and Steel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Diamond's overall argument is framed as a response to what he identifies in the Prologue as "Yali's question." Yali, a man from New Guinea, posed his question to Diamond when the author was visiting that country on a research excursion. The question was, essentially, why white people had more "cargo," by which he meant material goods and technology, than people like himself. Diamond could not answer the question at the time, but it formed the basis for Guns, Germs, and Steel. In Diamonds's own words, his thesis is this:

History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences between peoples' environments, not because of biological differences between peoples themselves.

As he explains, what he means by this is that European people were able to develop the technology, culture, and diseases (the "guns, germs, and steel") that enabled them to dominate the world for much of its history not because of anything supposedly "superior" about them. Rather, as he shows throughout the book, it is because Eurasia was more suitable for the development of agriculture, and the complex civilizations that it facilitated, than elsewhere. It was due to unique geographic features that Europeans went on to colonize and conquer peoples around the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Diamond's overall argument in this book is that some societies come to dominate others because of geographical luck.  The book is meant as an answer to Yali's question.  It is meant to explain why some societies became powerful and others did not.  Some people have argued that this is because of racial characteristics or cultural characteristics of the various societies.  But Diamond does not believe this.  In the book, he argues that the societies that became powerful were simply lucky.  They arose in places where farming was more likely to arise and to spread.  This allowed them to form civilizations, which in turn gave them the technology, the political organization, and even the diseases that helped them dominate the other peoples of the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial