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We are reading one chapter a week of Guns Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond.  This book is an attempt to find out why the Eurasians have all the stuff, and the Africans, native Americans, native Australians and c. have so little.

I encourage this to be slow blogging.  Post a comment any time during the week.

The next book will be Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention from Fire to Freud, by Peter Watson

Chapter 18 returns to near the start of the book, and looks again at why Pizzaro's tiny army destroyed the Incas, who were the largest and most populous and most technologically advanced society in the Americas.

Diamond is starting to wrap things up here, and this chapter recapitulates the themes of the book.  The Spaniards won because

  1. Europe had a lot more domesticated large animals - 13 to 1 for the Americas.  These animals supplied labor, meat, milk, hides, and more.  They allowed greater food production where agriculture existed, and helped provide the surplus food production that is needed for there to be specialists in a society.  The horse, in particular, also made soldiers much more effective.
  1.  Europe had more cultivated crops, and these were more nutritious and varied than what existed in the Americas
  1.  The geography of Eurasia allowed more rapid spread of ideas, foods, and germs
  1. As a result of the above, the Europeans had much better technology, both for food production, offensive warfare (metal weapons and some guns vs. wooden and stone weapons), defensive warfare (armor), and transport (wheeled vehicles and much better ships).

Europe had these advantages not for any reason of intelligence, not because they were better people, but because they had been born on a continent that was better suited to large human societies.

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As an aside from the book, the treatment of American Indians by the descendants of Europeans continues to be a national disgrace, and one too little known and discussed.  This isn't all ancient history - or even history from 100 years ago.  People who are interested in the recent and current treatment of the people who were here first can read a lot more about it right here on Daily Kos - two diarists that I especially recommend are Ojibwa and Winter Rabbit.
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There are just two more chapters in the book:
Chapter 19: How Africa became Black - Dec 6
Epilogue: The future of human history as a science - Dec 13

Then we will start Ideas on Dec 20.

I was hesitant to start the new book in the holidays.  Some people will be away, but, on the other hand, some people may have more time to read.  So, I will go with it, but we will cover only small portions each week.  It will be easy to catch up in January.
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For today's poll .... do you know any American Indians?  Feel free to detail your answers in the comments.

Originally posted to plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:18 AM PST.

Poll

Do you know any American Indians?

35%37 votes
7%8 votes
28%30 votes
11%12 votes
1%2 votes
5%6 votes
8%9 votes

| 104 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for learning about history (20+ / 0-)

    and learning about other things, too.

    We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

    by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:17:53 AM PST

  •  For another take on the collision of (8+ / 0-)

    Europeans with Native Americans read 1491 by Charles C. Mann, in the March 2002 Atlantic.

    Mann cites research that indicates there were more highly developed urban agricultural societies, that the first Americans were here in the many millions, and had actually altered the landscapes to a high degree, which had reverted to wilderness by the time of the Pilgrims, due to a 90% die-off from disease.

    The implication for me is that the germs were most important in easily enabling the Europeans to move in to the Americas. There may have been many more 'Little Big Horns' because the early Europeans would have been way outnumbered and not wise in the ways of the natives. And they would have brought only so many bullets with them. Germ warfare is still pursued by our European culture.

    •  I have not read Mann (7+ / 0-)

      certainly Diamond does not downplay the role of germs.

      We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

      by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:35:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Native American culture was far more (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Nova Land, webranding, yinn, plf515, mayim, IreGyre

        advanced than was surmised when the book was written, due to the die-off and subsequent return to wilderness of the landscape by the time large numbers of European immigrants settled here. Mann describes the evidence, but since no one had bothered to acknowledge these truths, due to ethnocentrism, there is great resistance to this area of study.

        I'm suggesting that had it not been for the germs this hemisphere might have remained native, thinking of Afghanistan as an example of the difficulty of conquest of a rugged area, despite better weapons.

        I don't think Diamond mentions Mann in the Afterword, though.

        •  Interesting ... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Nova Land, Halcyon, yinn, mayim

          but most of the Americas are not nearly as rugged as Afghanistan.  

          I gotta read that Mann article though

          We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

          by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:56:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I Often Wonder. I Have Not Read This Book So (8+ / 0-)

          I kind of hate to jump into this conversation. But there is a site near where I live I visit often:

          Cahokia (pronounced kəˈhoʊki.ə) is the site of an ancient indigenous city (650–1400 CE) near Collinsville, Illinois. In the American Bottom floodplain, it is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The 2,200-acre (8.9 km2) site included 120 man-made earthen mounds over an area of six square miles, although only 80 survive.Cahokia Mounds is the largest archaeological site related to the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies in eastern North America centuries before the arrival of Europeans.

          [....]

          Cahokia was settled around 650 CE during the Late Woodland period. Mound building at this location did not begin until about 1050 CE, at the beginning of the Mississippian cultural period. The inhabitants left no written records beyond symbols on pottery, shell, copper, wood, and stone, but the elaborately planned community, woodhenge, mounds, and burials reveal a complex and sophisticated society. The city's original name is unknown.

          The original site contained 120 earthen mounds over an area of six square miles, although only 80 survive today. To achieve that, thousands of workers over decades moved more than an "estimated 55 million cubic feet of earth in woven baskets to create this network of mounds and community plazas. Monks Mound, for example, covers 14 acres, rises 100 feet, and was topped by a massive 5,000 square-foot building another 50 feet high."

          "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

          by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:02:47 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Mann discusses Cahokia in the linked article, (7+ / 0-)

            as the jumping-off point for introducing us to North American pre-Columbian culture. He gives maize a way larger role than Diamond does, and writes that maize's spread to Africa enabled larger populations of future slaves to be born. Germs prevented profitable harvesting of many native Americans as slaves.

            •  I Know Folks Here Are Like Ten Times (7+ / 0-)

              more educated then the general public as a whole.* I live just a few miles from the Cahokia Mounds. It is a staggering thing to see. When a lot of us "white" Europeans (I am almost all Scottish) were living in the "Dark Ages" or even before that, in freaking caves, Indians in this part of the world were "rocking some neat stuff."

              I often joke, with all the education I have if I had to do it all over again I wouldn't have learned how to market shit to people, I would have become an archaeologist. What is so stunning about the "Mounds" is it is a pyramid building structure that you see south of the border and in Egypt. They just didn't have access to stone, so they used earth/dirt. I wish somebody could connect the dots on how this style seems to spread throughout much of the world when there was no connect among the people.

              * I love I can mention a book or the Cahokia Mounds and people actually know what I am talking about!

              "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

              by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:32:27 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Is The Next Book You Are Starting This (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    88kathy, Nova Land, Halcyon, yinn, plf515, mayim

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:44:58 AM PST

  •  My edition has a 2003 Afterword. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nova Land, yinn, plf515, mayim, Neon Vincent

    I think we should discuss it, since he seems (scanning briefly) to try to relate the book's themes to current issues of foreign policy and history. I think it would be worthwhile to consider where we are now with globalization and neoliberalism in the context of how we got here: conquest -> imperialism -> colonialism -> discovery of oil -> explosion in technology -> better guns and steel -> more exploitation of the entire planet -> destruction of cultures, more genocide -> purposeful destruction of subsistence/self-sufficient agriculture transformed into agriculture for export -> destruction of ability to survive independent of the world economy (dependence on dollars instead of home-grown food) -> GM seeds as a 'germ' infecting world food with the potential to kill us all (climate change also), etc.

    Or maybe I should just read Collapse. BTW, here's Richard Heinberg'sreview of Collapse.

  •  It's been a while since I read GG&S, but (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    88kathy, Halcyon, yinn, plf515, mayim

    it seems to me that Diamond left out the factor of religion. During the Middle Ages, Europe was almost completely Catholic. The church instituted a fully integrated (albeit exclusive) university system that tied religious education to the nation-state, and encouraged the spread of ideas across the continent via the universal language of Latin. When protestantism came about, it was able to use that system to spread itself. Likewise with science and technology.

    Secular humanists are always forgetting about the religion factor. Religion played a huge role in European history and European colonialism. The American continent had nothing that came close. America in 1492 was full of localized cultures, localized religions, localized languages, and localized empires. Globalization might suck in some ways, but in other ways, it can be very advantageous.

    --Free thinkers shouldn't go around thinking just anything. (Terry Pratchett)

    by HPrefugee on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 04:56:14 AM PST

    •  I don't think religion is relevant (8+ / 0-)

      really, except as an outgrowth of culture.

      WHY did Europe have (pretty much) a single religion?  For the reasons that Diamond gives - it was easier for everything (including religion) to spread in Eurasia than in the Americas (and also Africa and Australia).

      Diamond does talk quite a bit about language - and why European languages were much more similar than those in (again) Americas, Australia, Africa, and Oceania.

      We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

      by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:00:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It seems overly simplistic (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        88kathy, webranding, yinn, plf515, mayim

        to say "it was easier for everything to spread in Eurasia" just because of geography. Have you ever seen the Swiss Alps? Have you ever seen the Black Forest, which at one point covered most of Europe? The Roman Empire spent an enormous amount of resources fighting local tribes in Europe and hacking its way through the land to build a transportation system for its armies. The Roman Catholic Church then used those very same roads and the imperial infrastructure to spread ideas around Europe.

        I understand the argument that Diamond makes. I just think he misses some important factors.

        --Free thinkers shouldn't go around thinking just anything. (Terry Pratchett)

        by HPrefugee on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:11:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Diamond doesn't ignore the alps (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          88kathy, webranding, yinn, mayim, HPrefugee

          but they don't bisect Europe.

          As for roads - well, I am also reading "Pursuit of Glory" which shows just how bad the roads were in Europe until quite recently - long after the period described in GG and S.  In the 17th century, in much of Europe, walking was the fastest way to get anywhere.

          We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

          by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:14:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  About My Favorite Book Of The Last 15 Years (7+ / 0-)

            Is Undaunted Courage. Lewis and Clark kind of had fun walking through the plains of Kansas, then they got to the Rockies. They were like WTF are we supposed to do now! Felt if they just walked to this peak or that peak it would be over, well not so much.

            "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

            by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:17:41 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  There is no easy way to get from (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              88kathy, Nova Land, webranding, yinn, mayim

              the east coast of North America to the west coast.

              The Rockies, and, south of there, the dessert.

              In South America, there is the Amazon and the Andes.

              And getting from North to South America is also very hard.

              In Europe, you can go north of the Alps, in what is now Denmark, Netherlands, Northern France and c.

              We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

              by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:24:47 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I Think I Must Have Asked You This (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                88kathy, Nova Land, yinn, plf515, mayim

                Cause we've spend more then a few seconds here talking about books. But have you read Undaunted Courage?

                "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

                by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:34:00 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I have not (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  88kathy, Nova Land, webranding, mayim

                  the list of books I ought to read is huge.

                  We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

                  by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:38:48 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Well .... I Almost Never Look Down On Somebody (6+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    88kathy, Nova Land, Halcyon, yinn, plf515, mayim

                    cause they did or didn't read this book. I got a backlog of a few dozen books I own. Then another couple dozen I've found via you and other folks here. But dare I say this, you ought to take Undaunted Courage and move it to the top of your list.

                    You can't take a history class in middle school and not hear about Lewis & Clark. But my gosh, what they did will blow your mind. They both kept very detailed journals and what they tell is hard to comprehend. It is staggering.

                    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

                    by webranding on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:43:16 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

          •  There are no mountain ranges that bisect (6+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            88kathy, Halcyon, webranding, yinn, plf515, mayim

            the Americas, and North American civilizations did not simply grow up to the edges of the Rocky mountains and then stop and say WTF do we do now?

            Also, Europeans might have been walking, but they were walking on the roads made by the Roman army. In fact, some of Europe's major roads today were built on top of old Roman highways. The main highways leading into and out of London today are exactly the same as they were on old Roman maps.

            If you would like to read some cogent criticism of Diamond's book, I suggest this article, which argues that Diamond relies on "utterly conventional Eurocentric history."

            --Free thinkers shouldn't go around thinking just anything. (Terry Pratchett)

            by HPrefugee on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:46:38 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Diamond is certainly not conventional (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              88kathy, Nova Land, yinn, mayim, Neon Vincent

              I am not qualified to say who is right about climate - Diamond or the author of the piece you cite - but Diamond is clearly not conventional; Conventional Eurocentric thought is that the Europeans won because the natives were stupid, or because God wanted them to.

              For the facts on climate - well, as I said, I don't know enough to say who is correct.

              For the roads - in Pursuit of Glory, Blanning makes clear that there really weren't any 'roads' as we think of them in most of Europe.  The Roman roads were in such disrepair that many of them were barely discernible.  

              I know that the Rockies don't bisect N. America, but south of the Rockies is dessert - also very hard to cross - especially without animals to ride on.  

              We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

              by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:59:57 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  The Chinese might disagree (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      88kathy, Nova Land, Halcyon, yinn, plf515, mayim

      The Chinese might disagree with you.

      China has had a unity of religion, formal Buddhist schools, and religion integrated with the government (The Mandate of Heaven). Yet up until recently China was considered a "third world" nation. Religion is, at best, a distraction from the question Diamond is addressing. And if you want to try arguing that European religions are somehow better than Buddhism, which is why Europeans have done as well as they have, then good luck with that. And now that China is rising and religion has been downplayed in modern Chinese society, how does that correspond with China now having more stuff?

      Religion simply doesn't adequately address the question of why Europeans have had all the stuff, so Diamond wisely left it out.

      But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

      by banjolele on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 06:31:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Diamond deals with the China v. Europe (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        88kathy, yinn, plf515, mayim, Neon Vincent

        issue in the Epilogue: China was unified, so the decision by one person to, e.g. cease treasure voyages, and shut down ship building prevented China from reaching America. Columbus asked five monarchs to fund his voyage of exploration before one said 'yes'. The lack of unification of Europe was a boon for adoption of technology, followed by its diffusion.

        Now it is China using its advantage to siphon up world technology (factories; IT) and raw materials.

        Perhaps climate change, rather than geography, will become a determinant of the next century of history. Not to mention the globalized economy.

      •  You have misread what I was saying (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        88kathy, plf515, mayim

        I'm certainly not going to argue that any one religion is better than any other, since I myself have no religion. But to leave religion out of a scholarly treatise on European history is ridiculous. European culture was spread largely through religion during the Middle Ages. Religion is not simply an "outgrowth" of culture, it is a culture in and of itself.

        Furthermore, Diamond seems to advocate a deterministic view that people don't really have any impact on their own history via culture and or agency, they are simply the unwitting beneficiaries of geography and geology. Now, I know that's not entirely what Diamond is saying. Nevertheless, his thesis echoes a certain widely discredited American historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, who circa 1893 tried to claim that American democracy arose simply due to the circumstances of "free" land. His argument made us feel good about American colonialism and genocide for a while, but no one today takes him seriously.

        "Religion simply doesn't adequately address the question of why Europeans have had all the stuff, so Diamond wisely left it out."

        LOL. Ever been to the Vatican museum???

        --Free thinkers shouldn't go around thinking just anything. (Terry Pratchett)

        by HPrefugee on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 07:48:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  But GG and S is not a history of Europe (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          88kathy, mayim

          I agree, if one were to write a history of Europe for any period in the last 2000 years, one would be foolish to ignore religion.  

          But GG and S is not a history of Europe, it's an attempt to answer a specific question, which is in the box in your comment.  

          And the fact that a lot of the stuff wound up in the Vatican isn't really relevant.  The point is that it wound up in Eurasia not Africa, the Americas, or Australia.

          We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

          by plf515 on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 11:22:12 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I do know several Canadian (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    88kathy, yinn, plf515, mayim
    First Nations people from various FN communities.

    I get "suaviter in modo", Mr President. May we now have some "fortiter in re"?

    by tapu dali on Sun Nov 29, 2009 at 05:44:07 AM PST

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