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
- 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.
- Europe had more cultivated crops, and these were more nutritious and varied than what existed in the Americas
- The geography of Eurasia allowed more rapid spread of ideas, foods, and germs
- 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.
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.
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.
For today's poll .... do you know any American Indians? Feel free to detail your answers in the comments.