Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The Big Idea: Europeans conquered the world because they existed in a temperate climate and in a long East-West axis connected to the Fertile Crescent and Asia. This geographic starting point led to a faster development of agriculture, which led to larger populations, which led to faster technological development and stronger militaries.

How did Europeans (and those of European ancestry) come to dominate every continent?

Environmental advantages led to more higher food production which led to technological and military advantages that allowed Europeans to colonize other continents.

Why is agriculture such an advantage?

Agriculture provides food surplus, which enables higher populations, more population density, development of writing, development of technology, stronger militaries, improved transportation and global exploration.

What factors lead to advanced levels of agriculture?

Temperate climate, wild plants suitable for domestication, wild animals suitable for domestication.

Why did Europe and Asia develop agriculture first?

They had more positive factors present (suitable climate, more domesticable plants and animals). Other regions had little or no animals that could be domesticated, occasionally because they were hunted to extinction during hunter-gatherer stages of development.

Why were Europe and Asian people immune to diseases that decimated people in other continents during first encounters and colonization?

European and Asians had many centuries in which to develop immunity to various diseases that originally came from the animals they had domesticated.

How did geographic orientation also favor Europeans and Asians?

A longer East-West axis in Europe/Asia (vs North-South axis in Africa and Americas) allowed greater exchange of plants and animals, more exchange of domesticated plants and animals, and more trade overall.

Why didn’t people from the Fertile Crescent dominate the world, even though they had the earliest agriculture?

Their advantage in agriculture decreased over time as land eroded and became less and less productive.

Why didn’t people from China dominate the world, even though they had the earliest agriculture?

Europe had enough division to encourage competition between nations that led to faster technological advance. China was politically unified and didn’t have the same competitive pressures to advance technology as quickly.