Guns, Germs, and Steel | Study Guide

Jared Diamond

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Guns, Germs, and Steel | Epilogue : The Future of Human History as a Science | Summary

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Summary

The epilogue usefully restates Diamond's arguments in broad strokes and makes the additional case for the study of history as a science. The epilogue begins with Diamond's response to Yali's question: Why did Europeans come to dominate the globe? Diamond argues it was because of geography. Had Aboriginal peoples been placed in western Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, they too would have come to dominate the globe. This is because of differing geographic features between the continents; Eurasia had a variety of plant and animal life suited to human domestication. From domestication came human settlements and population density, technologies such as literacy and metalworking, and complex social organizations such as states and empires. It was possible to spread these developments to other areas because Eurasia benefited from an east-west diffusion and migration pattern that kept animals and plants in similar climates and latitudes, while peoples of other continents, especially Africa and the Americas, had north-south axes through differing climates that made transport and diffusion more difficult.

While Diamond is confident of the broad strokes of his interpretation, he admits elements will have to be worked out in greater detail in what he calls "extensions" of the book's main arguments "to smaller geographic scales and shorter time scales." He then begins to explore why Europe and not China came to dominate the world. His very short excursion here hypothesizes the singular Chinese political entity blocked the process of experimentation and exploration, while in the West someone such as Christopher Columbus was able to move through various European political entities until he found one willing to back his voyages. Diamond says culture must also be a factor in explaining these developments, similar to how more efficient keyboards for computers were rejected following the end of mechanical typewriters, or how symbolic rather than alphabetic writing systems continue to be used.

Diamond concludes his epilogue with an argument for the study of history as a science. History faces problems not encountered by standard sciences, such as the inability to run experiments and the unpredictability of past or future events. Nonetheless, history's quest to discover ultimate causes as well as its ability to make comparative evaluations and hypotheses mean the difficulties historians face are "broadly similar to the difficulties facing astronomers, climatologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, geologists, and paleontologists."

Analysis

Diamond uses the epilogue to make his case for both the overall argument of the book and his general approach: using the scientific method to uncover and discover the processes of history and patterns of social development.

His rationale for history as a science stands out in this section, as it is the first time he has explicitly made this argument. He also engages arguments here not addressed elsewhere in the book; for example he believes culture can have dramatic impacts on the course that a society takes or that "idiosyncratic individuals" such as Alexander the Great or Hitler also play a role. However, Diamond argues the geographic, or material, factors must be understood first to provide a foundation upon which to understand these other phenomena.

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