PBS: Guns, Germs, and Steel

I’ve long felt that the vast technical disparities between societies are rooted in commensurate historical resource gaps between the haves and the have-nots. This exact theory is articulated in Guns, Germs, and Steel, a PBS-aired TV adaptation of Jared Diamond’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name (wikipedia). Although the subject matter lay outside of my expertise, I find the premise of the documentary to be logical enough.

Long Story Short

Diamond’s theory states that European-derived culture dominates the world largely because of prehistoric geographic luck. Hunter-gatherer lived at the whim of their food, and had little time for much else. Groups who happened to live in the Fertile Crescent had access to indigenous flora and fauna that were well suited for domestication – namely wheat and barley, which lend themselves to farming and long-term storage; and the traditional domestic animals: pigs, goats, cows, horses, and sheep. This advantage, Diamond argues, sustained larger societies, and freed up human resources for endeavors ranging from technology (guns and steel) to art. Combined, these elements are a plausible explanation for subsequent European influence on the rest of the world.


Several criticisms of the book exist, including Eurocentrism, ignorance of politics, and questionable logic (see wikipedia topic). Criticisms that inject morality and politics seem to avoid the theory’s core logic of geography and resources. I see these higher order concepts as complimentary to, rather than contrary to Diamond’s theory.

The Edge.org has a written “talk” by Jared Diamond, and subsequent discussion are worth reading. The discussion includes comments from Jared Diamond as well as Bill Gates.

I highly recommend The National Geographic produced documentary, and I anticipate that the original book is more informative still.

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One Response to “PBS: Guns, Germs, and Steel”

  1. JonnyRo says:

    I really need to fix my TiVo so I can catch stuff like this.

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