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Books, Journals, New Media
December 13, 2000

History, Biology: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 2000;284(22):2933-2935. doi:10.1001/jama.284.22.2933-JBK1213-2-1

Why did Europeans conquer the peoples of the New World, sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia, and not vice versa? Some of us are tempted to attribute hegemony to intelligence, social organization, religious belief, or moral fiber. Our experiences as physicians, encountering in their moments of vulnerability and disorientation the members of various classes and cultures, have all too often reinforced suspicions of Darwinian dominance.

Would-be medical student and protolinguist turned evolutionary biologist and biogeographer Jared Diamond, PhD, having befriended New Guineans who have one foot in the Stone Age, noticed that they regularly surpassed Europeans in native intelligence. Such insights, a broad knowledge of science, and an astonishingly open and admirably logical mind empower Diamond courageously to ask questions that might seem to invite racist answers. Pointing out that all of us are tempted to accept the "obvious" conclusions in the absence of a convincing alternative hypothesis, he offers a Socratically presented history of humankind based on a refreshingly self-aware point of view and a fascinating range of data. His conclusion is that a people's political dominance is not a sign of superior intelligence but rather a consequence of evolutionary and geographical happenstance.