Guns, Germs, and Steel Themes
by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel book cover
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Guns, Germs, and Steel Themes

The main themes in Guns, Germs, and Steel are geographic success, geographic failure, and communication. 

  • Geographic success: Diamond asserts that geographic location enabled some societies to develop agriculture and complex social structures, paving the way for future economic success.

  • Geographic failure: The failure of societies can also be attributed to geography: the need to hunt and forage rather than farm creates impediments to social development, as does a lack of natural resources or an unfavorable climate.

  • Communication: The ability to trade goods and communicate ideas also increases societal progress. Isolated communities are at a disadvantage once more advanced societies invade them.

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Geographic Success
Diamond’s main theme in Guns, Germs, and Steel is that the advantage of one society over another is not based on race or intelligence as some historians have claimed but instead on geography. Certain favorable aspects of local geography allow a group of people who live in that area to more easily produce food. As these people learn to farm the land and raise specific crops rather than forage for them, they find they have more time for other activities. They create rules that benefit their existence, designate certain members to focus on tasks beyond those of pure survival, and thus set up complex societies. From this advantage over the basic nomadic lives of hunters and foragers, the more stabilized and organized communities emerge as conquerors. Diamond asserts that one group of people is not more intelligent than another but rather that the more successful group lived in an area whose environment provided for cultural advantages. In other words, those who lived in more fertile areas, such as around the Mediterranean, as opposed to those who settled in the Arctic area or in the African Sahara, had a much greater chance of success.

Geographic Failure
Diamond also focuses on the opposite side of his major theme. Instead of concentrating just on how and why societies succeed, he explores why societies fail and how those failures become permanent if certain environmental conditions are not met. Societies that are forced to be hunters and gatherers because of the geography in which they live will always be at a disadvantage. Another condition that marks a group of people for failure is the inability to create a sufficiently dense population. This might be due to an unfavorable climate or to an insufficient supply of essential raw materials. A successful community also needs to be able to domesticate crops and animals; without doing so, the community will never progress to the next level—farming. One of the elements that allows for successful farming is the presence of large-seed crops. Wheat, for example, grows in a wide variety. The most productive and the most...

(The entire section is 589 words.)