What is Yali's question in Guns, Germs, and Steel?
In his prologue, Jared Diamond recounts being sent to study birds in New Guinea in 1972. While there, he met a curious and charismatic New Guinean politician named Yali. Yali, like everyone else, knew that the Europeans had developed much more "cargo," or material goods such as steel axes, medicines, soft drinks, and umbrellas, than had the native New Guineans. He wanted to know why. Yali asked,
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?
Diamond came to understand that this was a far more complex question than he had realized. He spent twenty-five years trying to come up with the answers that became the content of his book.
Diamond goes on to say that he recognized that the question encompassed more than simply the material calculation of who could afford to drink more cokes or have more stuff in their homes. He therefore reformulated Yali's question as follows:
Why did wealth and power become distributed as they now are, rather than in some other way? For instance, why weren't Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?
Diamond acknowledges from the start that, despite several centuries of false assertions of innate white superiority, there is no difference in intelligence and ability between European white people and other ethnic groups. Answers, Diamond states, lie in other areas. These include the development of agriculture, which was key to accumulating the surpluses that allowed large populations to develop, the development of metal technology, the transmission of knowledge through sophisticated writing systems, a lack of geographic barriers, and the early development of disease immunity.