Quotes from Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond

- “This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years.”
- “The capture of the last independent Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, in the presence of his whole army, by Francisco Pizarro and his tiny band of conquistadores” v. “Atahuallpa’s coming to Madrid and capturing King Charles I of Spain.”
- “history is not ‘just one damn fact after another’, as a cynic put it. There really are broad patterns to history.”
- “No art, bone tool, or anything else has come down to us from early Homo sapiens except for their skeletal remains.”
- “revolutionary aesthetic and spiritual developments”
- The extinction of the megafauna 40,000 years ago “eliminated all the large wild animals that might otherwise have been candidates for domestication, and left native Australians and New Guineans with not a single native domestic animal.”
- “When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good that we have done by coming to your land by order of his Majesty the King of Spain.”
            Francisco Pizarro to Atahuallpa
- “The sole Native Americans able to resist European conquests for so many centuries were those tribes that reduced the military disparity by acquiring and mastering both horses and guns…we easily forget that horses and rifles were originally unknown to Native Americans.”
- “The Spaniard’s steel or chain mail armor and, above all, their steel helmets usually provided an effective defense against club blows, while the Indian’s quilted armor offered no protection against steel weapons.”
- “strength of brute numbers was the first of many military advantages that food-producing tribes gained over hunter-gatherer tribes.”
- “horses, whose military role made them the jeeps and Sherman tanks of ancient warfare”
- “farmer power”
- “in most areas of the globe suitable for food production, hunter-gatherers met one of two fates: either they were displaced by neighboring food producers, or else they survived only by adopting food production themselves.”
- “our spittoons and garbage dumps joined our latrines to form the first agricultural research laboratories.”
- “Eurasian peoples happened to inherit many more species of domesticable large wild mammalian herbivores than did peoples of the other continents.”
- “Eurasia’s west-easy axis allowed for the Fertile Crescent crops quickly to launch agriculture over the bands of temperate latitudes from Ireland to the Indus Valley.”
- “African and the Americans are thus the two largest landmasses with a predominantly north-south axis and resulting in slow diffusion.”
- “ Great Plains was dry and unsuitable for agriculture” [The modern farms are due to irrigation]
- “That faster spread of Eurasian agriculture, compared with that of Native Americans and sub-Saharan African agriculture played a role (as the next part of this book will show) in the more rapid diffusion of Eurasian writing, metallurgy, technology, and empires. To bring up all these differences isn’t to claim that widely distributed crops are admirable, or that they testify to the superior ingenuity of early Eurasian farmers. They reflect, instead, the orientation of Eurasia’s axis compared with that of the Americas or Africa. Around those axes turned the fortunes of history.”
- “Until World War II, more victims of war died of war-borne microbes than of battle wounds.”
- “The greatest single epidemic in human history was the one of influenza that killed 21 million people at the end of the First World War.”
- “Far more Native Americans died in bed from Eurasian germs than on the battlefield.”
- “Cumulative mortalities of these previously unexposed people from Eurasian germs ranged from 50 percent to 100 percent. For instance, the Indian population of Hispaniola declined from around 8 million, when Columbus arrived in AD 1492, to zero by 1535.”
- The origin of writing:
“The kings and priests of ancient Sumer wanted writing to be used by professional scribes to record numbers of sheep owed in taxes, not by the masses to write poetry and hatch plots.”
- “The limited uses and users of early writing suggest why writing appeared so late in human evolution.”
- “Inventors often have to persist at their tinkering for a long time in the absence of public demand, because early models perform too poorly to be useful.”
- “technology develops cumulatively, rather than in isolated heroic acts, and that it finds most of its uses after it has been invented, rather than being invented to meet a foreseen need.”
- “When improvements in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent.”
- “Depending on their geographic location, societies differ in how readily they can receive technology by diffusion from other societies.”
- “Sedentary living was decisive for the history of technology, because it enabled people to accumulate nonportable possessions.”
- “geographic and ecological barriers to diffusion of technology were less severe in Eurasia than in other continents.”
- “technology begets technology”
- “With the rise of chiefdoms around 7,500 years ago, people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them.”
- “the official religions and patriotic fervor of many states make their troops willing to fight suicidally…we forget what it radical break it marks with previous human history.”
- “Every state has its slogan urging that its citizens be prepared to die if necessary for the state.”
- “Agriculture was another nonstarter in Australia , which is not only the driest continent but also the one with the most infertile soils.”
- “Aborigines remained hunter-gatherers” and Australia could only support hunter-gatherers due to its limited resources.
- “an accident of geography”
- “the invention of the double-outrigger sailing canoe may have been the technological breakthrough that triggered the Austronesian expansion from the Chinese mainland.”
- “[Norse colonization of the Americas ] failed because the source ( Norway ), the targets ( Greenland and Newfoundland ), and the time (AD 984-1410) guaranteed that Europe’s potential advantages of food production technology, and political organization could not be applied effectively.”
- the earliest evidence for African food production is not the Nile, but the wet Sahara!
- The Fertile Crescent “committed ecological suicide by destroying its own resource base.”
- “The nations rising to new power are still ones that were incorporated thousands of years ago into the old centers of dominance based on food production, or that have been repopulated by peoples from these centers. Unlike Zaire or Paraguay Japan and the other new powers were able to exploit the transistor quickly because their populations already had a long history of literacy, metal machinery, and centralized government.”
- “People’s image of science is unfortunately often based on physics and a few other fields of similar methodologies.”
- “In most of physics and chemistry the concepts of “ultimate cause”, “purpose”, and “function” are meaningless, yet they are essential to understanding living systems in general and human activities in particular.”
- “teaching us what shaped the modern world, and what might shape our future.”

1 comment:

  1. Where can we find where these quotes are located at in the book?