The overall goal of the Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel is an ambitious one, essentially to provide a history of the human species that accounts for the present state of nations. Why were Europeans able to conquer Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, instead of vice versa? To a large extent, the book is a reaction to the idea of biological superiority and inferiority of different peoples. The result is a thorough summary and analysis of the major relevant factors on each inhabited continent. Here’s the history of homo sapiens in 200 words:
Humans evolve in Africa and spread, as hunter/gatherers, to all inhabitable pieces of land. Large mammals on Africa and Eurasia evolve to coexist with humans, while elsewhere the appearance of humans coincides with eradication of large mammals. Food production arises in a few select areas of the world. Eurasia (especially the Fertile Crescent) receives a disproportionate number of domesticatable plants and animals, which spread rapidly across the east-west (especially west) oriented landmass. Societies based on food production are capable of sustaining non-food producing people members and allow for dense populations requiring formalized governments and increasing the probability for inventions (e.g. ships, guns). These larger populations spread into hunter/gatherer lands where natives assimilate or are replaced. Food producing people also evolve immunity to diseases carried by their animals, which are then passed to susceptible cultures on first interactions (e.g. Europeans in the Americas/Australia). Europe’s fragmented nature leads to competition which drives technological advance and race to colonization, while China’s unity leaves decisions to promote these developments in the hands of a small few who choose isolation and technological stagnation.
The conclusion is that, in a general sense, the course of history was set in 8000 BCE simply by geography and environment, one that seems plausible to me. While I tired of the analysis of the merits of plant and animal species for food production, the book is a remarkably quick read for a scientific discourse.