A Short History of Everybody for the last 13,000 years – ISBN: 0099302780
This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is this: Why did history unfold differently on different continents?
As that opening sentence tells you, this is a book all about the history of humankind on earth. About why Europeans became the colonial powers and the Australian Aborigines didn’t. Or at least suggesting reasons why this is so.
It never occurred to me that such a question might be a racist one, or indeed that an explanation for why a certain group of people came to
dominate other people, may not seem to justify this domination?
Obviously Diamond was worried that some people might think so, as he starts out the book stating that this is not a racist book, and that understanding the reasons behind something doesn’t mean that you condone whatever happened. And he insists that there are no racist reasons why it was that white Europeans became the dominant powers.
Yet many (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations privately or subconsciously.
And I would have to disagree with him, at least on a personal note. Maybe it is because a former colony we Irish would be less willing to accept that the reason we were colonised and dominated by our neighbour is because of any genetic inferiority.
Personally I’ve always assumed that it was simply down to accidents of history, and Diamond points out that more than that, it was down to accidents of geography. In essence Europe and Asia, linked as they are, form a continent with the most natural resources that can be domesticated and developed. And because it is the largest land mass on the globe, Eurasia can hold more people, more people lead to more competition, and to technological advances.
There is a bit more to the book that this, but nevertheless that is in essence Diamond’s reason. And I’d agree with him. Accident of geography, rather than any inherited difference in intellect or ability.
Overall this is a very readable book, which important given that it is quite a large, non-fiction title. Occasionally Diamond repeats ideas and conclusions, but given that certain circumstances occur more than once this can be excused.