Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel - An Overview of Part I

Given the nature of the book, the only proper way to begin it would be with a brief run through of history, starting from around 11,000 B.C. Diamond focuses on an event he coined as the ‘Great Leap Forward’ - in which the human race began to set off down the path we all benefit from – and our expansion into the other continents from our cradle in Africa.

The whirlwind history lesson wasn’t at all overwhelming. In fact, I rather quite enjoyed it. There were two anecdotes that just happened to stick out to me: the first would be the events on the Chatham Islands involving the Moriori and Maori, found in the second chapter; and the other being what took place at Cajamarca, found in chapter three.

The Moriori and Maori were two groups of people that could be traced back to the same ancestral group. When they had split apart, they followed two different paths – the Moriori remained a hunter-gather population with low-level technology while the Maori became a culture of farmers with better technology. The Maori eventually came to violently conquer the Moriori.

What had happened at Cajamarca that the book detailed was the capture and murder of Atahuallpa, an Inca emperor by a conquistador named Francisco Pizarro, and the consequent slaughter of Inca troops. Pizarro and his relatively small force of men were able to take out large – I do mean seriously large. I believe that the book has mentioned upwards of 60,000/80,000 men - chunks of Inca warriors.

Both incidents hold similar patterns – patterns that illustrate the author’s point behind why certain groups are able to overcome others. The gap of technology and the exploit of such a divide is an obviously important one. Another which I expect to be explored in later chapters would be the difference in the habitats the different cultures where raised in. This is most likely going to be one of the cornerstones of conquest because it helps to influence many different prolific and individual factors of a civilization.

This, interesting enough, didn't seem to be anything exceptionally new or groundbreaking to me. I, almost naïvely, at some level understood that technology would be a major deal breaker in taking over any people. Though, I did enjoy the stories and background even to show this point. I felt that what the book did instead of introducing something new, was to expand on a shallow understanding that was already there - which at times is more valuable, especially when I'm expecting GGS to start dropping some very wicked ideas at some point.

So there: a run-through of the first part of Guns, Germs, and Steel. This was long over seeing as how I promised to do so quite some time ago, but hey. Better late then never, no?

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