In the Pulitzer-prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, author Jared Diamond argues that environmental differences rather than inherent differences between races are responsible for some cultures becoming dominant in the modern world. As Diamond explains in his prologue to the book, the impetus for his study came while he was walking on a beach in New Guinea with a local politician named Yali, who posed the question: "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?" As Diamond explains:
Although Yali's question concerned only the contrasting lifestyles of New Guineans and of European whites, it can be extended to a larger set of contrasts within the modern world.
To explain why geography was overwhelmingly responsible for the variations in the speed of development of civilizations, Diamond uses arguments from the fields of biology, zoology, social sciences, and microbiology. In order for nomadic hunter-gatherers to develop agrarian societies, the climate needs to be suitable for food cultivation and storage, and the area needs to have wild plants and animals that can be domesticated. The abundance of food through agriculture allows the establishment of large centers of population. This in turn allows the division of labor that facilitates technological progress.
Because Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, civilizations at similar latitudes were able to more easily trade with each other, stimulating further technological growth. Microbiology comes into play because through the domestication of animals, Eurasians developed immunity to certain diseases the animals carried from which other civilizations had no such protection.
Civilizations that did not advance as rapidly as others were hindered by factors such as a lack of sufficient wild plants and animals suitable for domestication, north-south continental axes as well as geographical barriers that hindered expansion and growth through trade, and a lack of immunity to diseases that Eurasians brought with them on their explorations.