Study Questions for Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Preface
1) What are some of the problems of "narrowly focused accounts of world history"? pg. 9
do not include "other" societies (places other than
b) Most histories only start 3000BC. We need to go back further because the differing fates of societies began before that time.
c) Most histories deal with proximate factors, not ultimate factors. They simply accept European dominance without explaining the reasons for that rise in European dominance.
introduces us on pg. 10 to a distinction between ultimate and proximate
historical explanations. In your own words, explain the difference.
Proximate historical explanations rely on the identification of processes that led to European dominance. They do not explain why those processes emerged in Europe and not other places.
3) What historical
question is he attempting to answer?
"Why did history unfold differently on different continents?"
4) Diamond tells
us that world history is like an onion. What does he mean?
Historical understanding of broad human patterns requires inquiring deeper into the onion of human experience, far deeper than the outer most layer which is modern history.
Study Questions for Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, Prologue
1) What, according
to Diamond, is the "most basic fact of world history"?
"Historical inequalities have cast long shadows on the modern world, because the literate societies with metal tools have conquered or exterminated the other societies" pg. 13
2) What was Yali's
"Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" pg. 14
3) Diamond reformulates Yali's question. You can find it on pg. 16 in a paragraph that begins with "Thus." This is the objective of the entire book. It's important, so copy down this short paragraph.
"Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents? Those disparate rates constitute history’s broadest pattern and my book’s subject" pg. 16.
4) OK, look at that
paragraph in #3 again. Are there any problems with Diamond's
objective? What are his assumptions about "development"?
I do not have problems with his assumptions. However, it is important to acknowledge that Diamond is tracking human development in the Western sense of the word, eg. technology, wealth...
5) Briefly, what
are the three objections to the project that Diamond addresses. Pay close
attention to the third objection on pg. 18. Do you think he jumped over
1. Is there a chance that some readers will interpret a historical explanation of Europe's rise to dominance as a justification for European domination?
2. Won't this historical explanation be an Eurocentric approach? Diamond says "no." The book spends most of its time looking at other peoples around the world.
3. Aren't the concepts "development" and "civilization" problematic? I think Diamond cleared this hurdle.
What is the most common answer to Yali's question, in Diamond's estimation?
"Biological differences are the reason for differences in development." Europeans had an "innate ability". This is a racist, evolutionary, genetic explanation.
7) Diamond cites
an example from his own field work to defuse the charge of racism. What
does he say about "intelligence" and how does he compare New Guineans
New Guineans are smarter, according to Diamond. New Guineans must constantly adapt to survive. Passive Westerners survive without being required to adapt.
8) What is the
"climatic" explanation for the "rise of the west"?
Dry climates with productive agriculture depended on large-scale irrigation and thus the birth of civilization.
9) Diamond gets closer
to his mark on pg. 23 where he brings up guns, disease, tools, and
products. He calls this explanation "proximate." What
does this mean? What is an "ultimate" explanation?
Proximate: "first-stage" factors which identify immediate causes.
Ultimate explanation: Why did Europe develop the guns, germs and steel instead of, or in addition to, some other place.
10) The book’s thesis (as
opposed to the topic) is clearly stated on pg. 25. Write it down.
"History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves" p. 25.
11) Diamond then chronicles his qualifications for telling this story? Do you think it is important, or at all odd, that an evolutionary biologist is writing this history?
I think it is important, especially an evolutionary biologist with a broad range of expertise.
12) Diamond outlines the book in the next few pages. Very briefly, what is the key objective of each part:
Part I: Identification of proximate causes by looking at island and continental case study.
Part II: Rise of food production as rise of constellation of ultimate causes.
Part III: Connection from ultimate to proximate causes traced: germs, writing, technology, politics.
Part IV: Case studies that demonstrate concepts from parts II and III.