What is the overall thesis of the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Diamond frames his book as a response to a question posed to him by a New Guinean man named Yali during a research visit there. Yali wanted to known why it was that white people had so much "cargo" (i.e., material goods) and people like him had so little. This question cuts to the heart of world history as Diamond sees it, and his thesis is essentially an answer to it. His basic argument is as follows, in his own words:

History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among people's environments, not because of biological differences between peoples themselves (25).

It is not really genetic or cultural factors that facilitated the growth of modern civilizations in Eurasia, but accidents of geography. Certain regions were more conducive to the development of agriculture, which contributed to the development of complex societies capable of creating the "guns, germs, and steel" that gave them a sort of competitive advantage over other peoples. The transition of societies from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist had far more to do with the availability of domesticable animals and plants, for example, than any cultural factors. Especially important was the orientation of some continents (like Europe) along an east-west axis instead of a north-south one. This meant that there were more areas with similar climates through which domesticated crops might spread. So Diamond's argument is that factors like these played a decisive role in shaping human history.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jared Diamond is a professor at UCLA.  He has written several books about the history of mankind.  He has written "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in an attempt to enlighten society on why we have developed in the manner that we have.  Why is the USA so powerful?  Why is it when the African continent had such a head start that the Eurasia nations lead the world in technology?  Diamond attempts to explain 13,000 years of history in 471 pages. His thesis is stated on page 25 of the chapter entitled "Yali's Question";

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

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Guns, Germs, and Steel

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