Jared Diamond


American Scientist, Civilization Scholar, Geographer and Author

Author Quotes

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

In modern times, Australia was the sole continent still inhabited only by hunter-gatherers... Native Australia had no farmers or herders, no writing, no metal tools, and no political organization beyond the level of the tribe or band.

Most people are explicitly racists. In parts of the world - so called educated, so-called western society - we've learned that it is not polite to be racist, and so often we don't express racist views, but... Racism is one of the big issues in the world today. Racism is the big social problem in the United States.

Science is often misrepresented as the body of knowledge acquired by performing replicated controlled experiments in the laboratory. Actually, science is something broader: the acquisition of reliable knowledge about the world.

The history of interactions among disparate peoples is what shaped the modern world through conquest, epidemics and genocide. Those collisions created reverberations that have still not died down after many centuries, and that are actively continuing in some of the world?s most troubled areas.

Twelve thousand years ago, everybody on earth was a hunter-gatherer; now almost all of us are farmers or else are fed by farmers. The spread of farming from those few sites of origin usually did not occur as a result of the hunter-gatherers' elsewhere adopting farming; hunter-gatherers tend to be conservative.... Instead, farming spread mainly through farmers' outbreeding hunters, developing more potent technology, and then killing the hunters or driving them off of all lands suitable for agriculture.

Biology is the science. Evolution is the concept that makes biology unique.

History as well as life itself is complicated -- neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.

In much of the rest of the world, rich people live in gated communities and drink bottled water. That's increasingly the case in Los Angeles where I come from. So that wealthy people in much of the world are insulated from the consequences of their actions.

Much of human history has consisted of unequal conflicts between the haves and the have-nots.

Some people have much more pull than other people. But when I say that the public has ultimate responsibility, I'm not saying it in a moral sense. I'm just saying it in the sense of what is it that's really going to bring change.

The Indian civilizations of Central and North America remained entirely without pack animals; and it took thousands of years for the corn that evolved in Mexico's climate to become modified into a corn adapted to the short growing season and seasonally changing day-length of North America.

Twenty years ago, you might have been pessimistic and said there's no hope. But these days, some of our very biggest companies are acting remarkably cleanly. And in some cases, although not all cases, the CEOs are the driving forces behind that.

By about half a million years ago, human fossils had diverged from older Homo erectus skeletons in their enlarged, rounder and less angular skulls. African and European skulls of half a million years ago were sufficiently similar to skulls of us moderns that they are classified in our species, Homo sapiens. However these early Homo sapiens still differed from us in skeletal details, had brains significantly smaller than ours, and were grossly different from us in their artifacts and behavior. Modern stone tool making peoples would have scorned the stone tools of half a million years ago as very crude. The only other significant addition to our ancestors? cultural repertoire that can be documented with confidence around that time was the use of fire.

History before the emergence of writing around 3000BC receives brief treatment, although it constitutes 99.9% of the five million year history of the human species... Humans diverged from the apes around seven million years ago... 13 000 years since the end of the last Ice Age.

In short, Europe?s colonization of Africa had nothing to do with differences between European and African peoples themselves, as white racists assume. Rather, it was due to accidents of geography and biogeography?in particular, to the continents? different areas, axes, and suites of wild plant and animal species. That is, the different historical trajectories of Africa and Europe stem ultimately from differences in real estate.

Native Americans had only stone and wooden weapons and no animals that could be ridden. Those military advantages repeatedly enabled troops of a few dozen mounted Spaniards to defeat Indian armies numbering in the thousands.

Starbucks goes to a great effort, and pays twice as much for its coffee as its competitors do, and is very careful to help coffee producers in developing countries grow coffee without pesticides and in ways that preserve forest structure.

The main thing that gives me hope is the media. We have radio, TV, magazines, and books, so we have the possibility of learning from societies that are remote from us, like Somalia. We turn on the TV and see what blew up in Iraq or we see conditions in Afghanistan.

Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes [of the various societies' histories] towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values. On reflection we can also recognize the crucial role of these same two choices for the outcomes of our individual lives.

Differences between the Old and New Worlds in domesticated plants, especially in large-seeded cereals, are qualitatively similar to the differences in domesticated mammals, though the difference is not so extreme.

History followed different courses for different people because of differences among peoples? environments, not because of biological differences among people themselves.

Infectious diseases introduced with Europeans, like smallpox and measles, spread from one Indian tribe to another, far in advance of Europeans themselves, and killed an estimated 95% of the New World's Indian population.

Neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.

Styles of sculpture, music, and dance used to vary greatly from village to village within New Guinea. Some villagers along the Sepik River and in the Asmat swamps produced carvings that are now world-famous because of their quality. But New Guinea villagers have been increasing coerced or seduced into abandoning their artistic traditions. When I visited an isolated triblet of 578 people at Bomai in 1965, the missionary controlling the only store had just manipulated the people into burning all their art. Centuries of unique cultural development ("heathen artifacts," as the missionary put it) had thus been destroyed in one morning.

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American Scientist, Civilization Scholar, Geographer and Author