Conquering world history: The Guns, Germs, and Steel quiz

By: Annette Parks
Image: tmdb

About This Quiz

Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize-winning book was groundbreaking in its view of human societies. Why did some people manage to conquer others, and create hegemonic societies over people who were no less intelligent, resourceful, or strong? The answer lies in the use of guns, germs, and steel. Do you know the most important facts about the book?

How many years of human history does the book seek to explain?

At the beginning of the book, the author explains that it's a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. He goes on to explore why some continents manage to dominate others.

What vegetable does Diamond compare world history to?

Diamond sees world history as an onion. The modern world constitutes the surface, while the keys to human history lie in the layers underneath.

Where did Diamond study bird evolution, and thus gain the motivation for the book?

Diamond spent his 20s in New Guinea, studying birds and the locals. New Guinea serves as a contrast to other societies throughout the book.

In New Guinea, what did the natives call modern goods that were foreign to them?

The people of New Guinea referred to these goods as cargo. That could be anything from modern tools to medicine and clothing. The term was also used to describe soda cans or umbrellas -- you name it.

Which Native American people ruled over empires with only stone tools?

Both the Incas and the Aztecs were able to create large empires and rule over them with only simple stone tools. In many other parts of the world, societies​ consisted of farming tribes and hunter-gatherers.

What is one drawback to modern industrialized societies?

Modern societies enjoy longer lifespans​, better medicine, and less death by homicide than hunter-gatherer groups. The drawback to this is that modern citizens have fewer close friendships and family ties.

What does Diamond think about modern "Stone Age" peoples?

Diamond asserts that modern "Stone Age" peoples -- that is, not industrialized -- are more intelligent than average, because the intricacies of their lives require them to be so.

Why does Diamond argue that societies at higher latitudes have a greater history of innovation?

Diamond argues that civilizations at higher latitudes, as opposed to those in tropical climates, are forced to innovate in order to escape the cold. For instance, they need to build warm houses to be comfortable.

In the book, what is the effect of obtaining guns, germs, and steel?

Political and economic power go to the nations that first obtained guns, germs, and steel. Diamond explains why some nations obtained these at different times, and why some did not at all.

What is the most common -- and incorrect -- explanation for the fate of societies, according to Diamond?

Diamond explains that history has mostly been described along racist lines. People assume that since certain societies, such as the Western Europeans, managed to dominate, that must mean that the peoples​ of Africa, the Americas and New Guinea were inferior in intelligence and ability.

What is the purpose of this statement in the book: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves."

Diamond says that he wrote this sentence because journalists frequently ask for a one-line summary.

For decades as an evolutionary biologist, Diamond has specialized in what?

Diamond asserts that his studies in bird evolution brought him into contact with a wide range of human societies. Many of these societies depend solely upon stone tools.

Of the world's 6,000 languages, how many of them are in New Guinea?

New Guinea is so diverse in its peoples that there are 1,000 languages spoken there. Interesting, considering that New Guinea accounts for only a small fraction of the earth's land area.

What was the biggest killer of Native Americans and other non-Eurasian peoples?

Amazingly, germs killed more of those conquered people than did guns and steel weapons. Nearly no Eurasians were killed by their opponents' germs in the New World.

Diamond asserts that writing developed in societies where what was on the rise?

Writing only sprang from scratch a few times in human history, always where food production was on the rise.

Which did farming not support the development of?

Farming did not boost intelligence and physical ability, but it did allow sedentary people to create innovation in society, and it fostered government and armies.

The same factors that molded Europeans' encounters​ with Native Americans also molded their encounters with whom?

The same factors that played into the conquest of The Americas were similar for Africa, although Diamond asserts that the long-term ramifications for Africa were far different than the Americas, mostly resulting in large-scale population shift.

Diamond asserts that human history should be established as what?

The other historical sciences include evolutionary biology, geology and climatology. The Epilogue of the book is titled, "The Future of Human History as Science," because this is what Diamond believes​ is an unsolved problem in how we view human history.

What do we know about Neanderthal brains?

Neanderthal brains were actually larger than our own. Neanderthals were the first to show signs of caring for their sick and burying their dead.

What does Diamond call the boost in human history which took place 50,000 years ago?

Diamond coined the term, the "Great Leap Forward." The earliest signs of this were in East African sites where stone tools and jewelry were found.

What are the best-known artifacts of Cro-Magnon life?

Cro-Magnons left us significant cave paintings, musical instruments,​ and statues. The most famous site for this is the Lascaux Cave of southwestern France.

During the Ice Age, why were humans able to travel to other continents?

The glaciers of the Ice Age locked up so much of the world's oceans that sea levels dropped hundreds of feet. Therefore, shallow seas, like those between Asia and Indonesian islands, dried up and humans could walk over them.

According to Diamond, what were the last two continents to be colonized by humans?

Diamond omits Antartica from this statement because it has never had a self-supporting human population. Therefore, North and South America were the last to be populated, after the invention of ships or and after occupation of Siberia, which brought access to the Bering land bridge.

Diamond compares the American West of 15,000 years ago to what?

Diamond asserts that the American West had big game animals, similar to the Serengeti. There were, for instance, elephants, lions, cheetahs, and even camels.

Where is human genetic diversity the highest?

Modern humans arose in Africa 100,000 years ago, and the continent boasts the most genetically diverse peoples in the world.

What is the world's largest continent?

Diamond does not separate Europe and Asia and considers Eurasia to be one continent. Thus, it's the largest and has been occupied the second-longest, following​ Africa.

What has been the biggest population shift in modern times?

The colonization of the New World has been the biggest shift in modern times. This has resulted in the conquest or complete disappearance of groups of Native Americans.

Which of these diseases endemic in Europe did NOT play a decisive role in European conquest of other continents?

Europeans didn't carry obesity with them to the New World, thus killing the natives. (This happened many centuries later.)

Which of these is NOT a factor that makes wild plant or animal species inedible to humans?

The other three factors contribute to a food's inedibility. This list also includes foods of a poisonous nature and those that are difficult to gather.

Which historical event led to horses being supplanted by vehicles?

Trunks and tanks were introduced during World War I, and this is when horses were finally supplanted as a means of assault and fast transportation.

How did populations come into contact with germs, and then, eventually, develop immunity from those germs?

The domestication of animals led to early death, and eventually immunity for those populations that had the animals. 99% of the non-exposed population was eventually killed off​.

What is the distinguishing factor that Diamond cites between the "Haves and Have-Nots"?

The conflict between the Haves and Have-Nots, which are unequal by definition, is based upon who has "farmer power." This power was easier to develop in certain parts of the world than others.

What does Diamond call imported domesticates, either crop or animal, which started local food production for various civilizations?

Founder crops and animals were those brought in​ by another tribe or group that had already domesticated that particular plant or animal. These imports then led to the rise of local farm production.

Which of these is NOT an example of area-specific domestication?

The Eastern United States did not domesticate the yam. This was done in Tropical West Africa.

What is the gateway to obtaining guns, germs, and steel?

Those who first established food production had a head start in obtaining guns, germs, and steel, and thus were able to conquer those who didn't.

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