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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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What was the "Great Leap Forward" in Guns, Germs, and Steel, and who did it impact?

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You can find Diamond’s discussion of what he calls the “Great Leap Forward” beginning on p. 39 of Guns, Germs, and Steel.  The Great Leap Forward was a time when human culture really took off.  Before the leap, humans did not create much art or technological innovation.  During the leap, that changed.  This was a time when human artistic expression and technological innovation boomed.  In a sense, you could say it was when we started to become fully modern humans.

The Great Leap Forward eventually affected all of the human beings living in the world.  Diamond says, on p. 40, that we do not really know exactly how that happened.  Some people think that humans in Africa underwent the leap and then spread out across the world while others say that the leap occurred at the same time in all human populations.  Diamond says that “the issue remains unresolved.”

As to what caused the leap, we are also unsure.  There is a consensus that the basic cause of the leap had to do with language.  Diamond argued in a previous book that this came about because of anatomical to the voice box that allowed humans to speak as modern humans do.  Other scholars have argued that the organization of the human brain changed and that was what allowed people to develop modern languages.  Either way, it appears that the Great Leap Forward was catalyzed by the development of language.

So, the Great Leap Forward was a boom in human artistic expression and technological innovation.  It came about because human beings became capable of modern language and it eventually affected all human populations on Earth.

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In Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, what was the "great leap forward," which people did it impact, and what probably catalyzed this change?

Jared Diamond discusses the “Great Leap Forward” in Chapter 1 of Guns, Germs, and Steel.  The term first appears on p. 39.  In essence, the Great Leap Forward is when human beings became fully modern in their mental capacities.

Diamond says that human beings had had modern-looking skeletons for tens of thousands of years before the Great Leap Forward. Although their physical remains look like ours, they left no indications of having as much mental capacity as we now have.  About 50,000 years ago, this changed.  All of a sudden, they started making many different kinds of tools, out of many different materials, where they had previously had only a few kinds of stone tools.  Now they started to create art.  They decorated their bodies with jewelry and they started to bury their dead more elaborately.  All of this, Diamond says, indicates that they had become fully human in their mental abilities.

 On p. 40, Diamond says that he believes this came about because the human voice box changed to allow for fully modern language.  Others say that the brain must have reorganized itself, even without changing its size.  In both scenarios, the catalyst for all this change was the development of modern language.

As for what people it affected, Diamond says (also on p. 40) that the issue was “unresolved” at the time that he wrote the book.  Some evidence tends to show that the leap occurred with one group of people in Africa who then spread out and came to populate every part of the globe.  Other evidence seems to indicate that it affected people in many different parts of the world at the same time.  It was not clear as to which of these was correct at the time that Diamond published Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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In Chapter One of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, where could I find the answer to the following question: "What was the Great Leap Forward, which peoples did it impact, and what probably catalyzed this change?"

The answers that you are looking for can be found beginning on p. 39 of Guns, Germs, and Steel.  This is where Diamond starts to discuss the Great Leap Forward.

Your first question had to do with what this leap actually was.  Diamond answers this on p. 39, though he does not define the leap in one single sentence.  As you can see on p. 39, Diamond says that humans before the leap lived very simple lives.  This changed with the leap.  After the leap, humans started to have more sophisticated stone tools, tools made of things other than stone, multi-piece weapons, sewn clothing, houses, jewelry, and even art.  The Great Leap Forward was the change in humans that allowed them to become so much more sophisticated.

I will address your third question next, since this is how Diamond does it.  On p. 40, he speculates about what led to this leap.  He is not certain, but he thinks it was an anatomical change.  He says that he has argued in the past that the leap was caused by

the perfection of the voice box [which was] the anatomical basis of modern language, on which the exercise of human creativity is so dependent. 

He says that other people think it was brain development that led to language.  In either case, it appears to be the development of modern language that catalyzed the Great Leap Forward.

Finally, you ask which people were affected.  Diamond poses this question on p. 40.  He asks whether one group of people experienced the leap and then moved out around the world and spread their culture or whether people everywhere experienced parallel changes.  Over the rest of p. 40 (and a little bit of p. 41) he says that we still do not know the answer to this question.

Diamond’s answers to the questions you pose are not stated very explicitly in the text, but you can find them beginning on p. 39.

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