2. Attempt to learn the history of civilization

New Guinea

It was in 1964 that Jared visited New Guinea for the first time. Fifty years have passed since then, and Prof. Diamond has been visiting New Guinea to continue his fieldwork. For him, New Guinea is a country full of adventure and birds. He says that once he went to New Guinea, other places seemed boring.

In New Guinea

In New Guinea © K. David Bishop

New Guinea is the worlds second largest island after Greenland. It is located in the South Pacific. The east side is Papua New Guinea and the west side is Indonesia. Mountains that rise 5,000 meters high running through the middle of the island are surrounded by tropical rainforests. Its many hills and valleys nurture a wide range of birds, including the beautiful bird of paradise. The indigenous residents still use stone tools and live a traditional lifestyle.

In New Guinea

In New Guinea © K. David Bishop

Jared was fascinated by New Guinea and there he wanted to conduct research on the birds that he had loved so since his childhood.

In New Guinea

In New Guinea

In New Guinea © K. David Bishop

In 1966, Jared moved to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine. The school provided funding that enabled him to conduct research not only on the human gall bladder, but also on birds. He visited New Guinea repeatedly to continue his work. He participated in the designing of National Parks in New Guinea, and he was involved in other ecosystem conservation activities.
In 1981, he rediscovered golden-fronted bowerbirds, birds that were thought to be extinct.

Two events were turning points in his research life.
The first was in 1985, when he received the MacArthur Fellowship ("Genius Grant Award") research prize. It recognized the value of his achievements; however, Prof. Diamond was not sure if he really deserved the prize.

The other was in 1987, when his wife, Marie, gave birth to their twin sons, Max and Joshua. He had been involved in his research, and he began to wonder what the world would be like in 2037 when his twin sons are 50, the age he was at that time. Prof. Diamond thought that there should be something that he could do to leave a better environment to his children.

Prof. Diamond, his wife, and two sons

Prof. Diamond, his wife, and two sons

After he thought long and hard about the future environment, he started writing books. Although he had written books for researchers, he wanted to write books targeting many more people to help make the world better.

A question that changed his life

In 1972, when Prof. Diamond was walking on a beach in New Guinea, he met a New Guinean man named Yali. Yali asked Prof. Diamond many questions such as where he had come from, what he was doing, and why he was studying birds before asking one final question.
"White people invented eyeglasses, pencils and cameras, and they traveled to New Guinea by air; but New Guineans simply use stoneware and did not travel to Europe. Do you know why?" Prof. Diamond could not answer the question at that time.

Prof. Diamond thought about it. Why did technology and civilization develop in some areas early and not in others?
There are no superior or inferior races. Scientifically such an idea would be illogical, and Prof. Diamond knew that New Guineans were as intelligent as other people, something that was clear to him through his interactions with New Guineans in their traditional society.
While he was involved in other research, he conducted surveys. In 1997, some 25 years after Yali had asked his questions, he finally published his answer in a book. It was when he was 60 years old.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

The title of the book is Guns, Germs, and Steel. He wrote in it that Europeans conquered the world with guns, germs and steel.
For example, why was the flourishing Inca Empire in South Africa destroyed by the Spanish? During the battle in which the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro captured Atahualpa, the Incan Emperor, to conquer the empire, 7,000 Incan warriors were overwhelmed by only 200 Spanish soldiers. The Incans had only weapons made of bronze, stone, and wood to fight against Spanish soldiers mounted on horseback with guns and steel swords.
The Inca Empire was also decimated by the smallpox virus, a horrible plague, that the Spanish had carried with them. They had no immunity to the disease, and more than half of the population perished.

Why did the Spanish have guns, germs, and steel while the Incans did not?
Prof. Diamond focused on the differences between the Eurasian Continent where Europeans were from and North and South America, home of the Incan Empire.
The Eurasian Continent had wheat and other easy-to-cultivate crops that grew there naturally, and this enabled agriculture to develop early on.
Agriculture nourished people, and society developed faster. One result of this was that the Europeans learned to make steel, which made swords and guns possible. In addition, they domesticated cattle, horses and other livestock, which also improved their lives. The livestock carried germs, but the Europeans developed immunity to them over a long period of time.

The Eurasian Continent stretches from east to west. The latitude and climate of the regions are similar, which allows almost all regions to grow crops and support livestock. This also makes it easier to spread agricultural techniques and culture throughout the continent, and it facilitates interaction among civilizations. This is how the civilizations that developed on this continent have grown further.
Plants that can be grown in South America are limited compared with those found on the Eurasian Continent, which delayed the development of agriculture. The types of livestock that can be raised in South America are significantly fewer than those that can be raised on the Eurasian Continent, and there were few cows and horses, which protected people in South America from exposure to germs carried by animals that Europeans had contact with. The American continent is long from north to south, and the latitude and climate vary by region, which made it difficult for agricultural products, techniques and culture to spread, and interactions among civilizations were fewer.

Prof. Diamond concluded that geographical differences made for differences in countries: Some developed technology and civilization early, and other did not. Differences in geographical conditions significantly influenced the origin and development of agriculture and civilization, which changed the history of individual regions.
This book tried to clarify the mystery of human history from a new viewpoint and won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. It became the worlds bestselling book. His name sprang into fame because of this book.

3. The history of civilization and sustainable society


Prof. Jared Diamond