Guns, Germs, and Steel

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Themes and Colors
Geographic Determinism Theme Icon
Racism, Violence, and Colonization Theme Icon
Diffusion, Trade, and Disease Theme Icon
Government, Centralization, and the State Theme Icon
Technology and Creativity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Guns, Germs, and Steel, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

At the heart of Guns, Germs, and Steel is a theory that has since become known as “geographic determinism”: the idea that civilizations develop over time in different ways in response to environmental factors such as temperature, soil fertility, availability of large mammals, and physical barriers to travel. While Diamond wasn’t the first to propose such a theory, he was the first to compile all the existing data to paint a convincing picture of how…

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One of the basic assumptions of Diamond’s theory of geographic determinism is that there are no fundamental differences in the intelligence, propensity for violence, or talent of peoples from different parts of the world—the cause of differences between civilizations is, in a word, geography. Nevertheless, Diamond contrasts his theory with another “theory,” which, unfortunately, has been all-too popular over history: racism. There are many who have argued that certain societies rise to power because their…

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One of the most important aspects of Diamond’s theory of geographic determinism is the concept of diffusion: the many different ways that technologies, ideas, goods, and resources are transported and spread both within a society and between separate societies.

One of the most important and representative forms of diffusion that Diamond discusses is trade. Trade is particularly important because it often involves the literal exchange of goods and ideas, meaning that a society that trades…

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One of the most important developments in modern human history—and one of the major reasons why certain societies were able to colonize other societies—is the development of the modern state. Diamond defines a state as a large (at least 100,000 people, usually) society organized around a single central leadership (that leadership could be a king, a parliament, or a combination of President, Congress, and Supreme Court, as in the United States). The central leadership passes…

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As its title would indicate, Guns, Germs, and Steel is largely about technology—in particular, how civilizations develop technologies and then use them to gain a comparative advantage over other civilizations.

By his own admission, one of the big blind spots in Diamond’s book is how civilizations, or rather, individual people, discover technologies in the first place. Diamond is writing a book of world history, which means that he has limited time to study what motivates…

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