Monthly Archives: July 2007

Reading: Jared Diamond

I’ve read one book by Jared Diamond:

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel (4 Jul 2007)

Diamond sets out to explain why Eurasians conquered America, Australia, and Africa, rather than the other way around, without postulating any genetic differences in intelligence or personality among the peoples themselves. (He wants to make money, after all!) He attributes it all to environmental differences — taking care not to notice that, by the logic of natural selection, longstanding environmental differences (i.e., different selection pressures) will inevitably give rise to differences in gene frequency.

Diamond boils the Eurasian advantage down to two basic factors: the east-west orientation of the continent and the presence of many large domesticable mammals. He’s mostly very convincing, though he doesn’t explain very clearly why Africa’s many large mammals are not suitable for domestication. (Zebras, he says, are bad-tempered and like to bite people. Is that really such a huge obstacle, given that the most widely domesticated animal in the world is the wolf?) Overall, it’s a good, thought-provoking read and deepens one’s understanding of world history.

I’m afraid that the one thing from this book that will stick in my mind, though, is its bizarre reference to “a hyena-like animal called an aardvark” that somehow slipped past the proofreaders.

There is, of course, a kind of hyena called an aardwolf, which I assumed must be what he had in mind. But, no, he’s talking about honest-to-goodness aardvarks and the “aardvark melon” they eat.

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