Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel Character List


Yali is the man Diamond mentions in the beginning of his book, who goes on to play a role throughout the text as a figure Diamond continuously refers to. Yali was a politician in New Guinea who met Diamond by chance, and the two of them become friends. Yali is an intelligent man who is plagued by a question: he doesn’t understand why the whites colonized his country and why this process didn’t happen the other way around. Yali’s question is the key question the book tries to answer.

Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg was a German inventor who is believed to have invented the printing press. His invention marks an important time in mankind’s history. He lived in the 15th century and while history attributes the invention of the printing press to him, Diamond argues that there is evidence that suggests that other regions had a rudimentary type of printing before then. This goes to show that no single inventor changes the course of human history. Instead, societies must be receptive to the invention and find ways to make use of it, or its use will never become widespread. Though we attribute the printing press to Gutenberg, other societies had invented methods for printing before him, but never made much use of them because they were not yet particularly useful.


Aristotle is a philosopher and thinker who lived in Ancient Greece. He is known for his definition of man as a cultural being, who needs to live in close proximity with other men. Based on his views, Diamond argues that society formed because it is man’s natural instinct to gather in groups and work together for a common goal.

Francisco Pizarro

Francisco Pizarro was a Spanish explorer who reached what is known today as Peru in the 16th century. Francisco Pizarro managed to overthrow the Incan Emperor Atahuallpa with a small army of just 200 men, and then went on to conquer the Incan Empire. Pizarro is mentioned because of his intelligence, cunning, and good luck. He is an example of how the Spanish were able to overthrow the Incas due to their germs, horses, technology, and literacy. Without these advantages, Pizarro would never have overcome Atahuallpa's numerically superior forces.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher whom Diamond mentions at one point in his book. Rousseau was known for his idea of the social contract and for his belief that humans were born in a perfect state, happy to live alone. It was only when they realized that living in communities made more sense, because it allowed them to keep a monopoly on violence and live in harmony with others, they gave up some of their rights willingly to get protection in return. Diamond mentions his ideas when discussing how humans first came to live in organized societies.


Levi is a Native American Diamond once knew when working on a farm in America. Like Yali, he also asked himself why the whites managed to invade his land way back when, and lamented the course of history. Diamond references him as another example of how many native peoples seek to understand how their lives were so violently overthrown by Eurasian invaders.


Atahuallpa was the name given to the Incan emperor defeated in Peru in the 16th century. He was the emperor of a large and wealthy empire, known for its large holdings of gold. However, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro was able to defeat his sizeable forces with only 200 men, and was able to take over his entire empire after capturing him. Diamond references this story as an example of how even the most powerful of native leaders could succumb to the superior technology of Eurasian invaders. Atahuallpa did not stand a chance against Pizarro's horses, steel weapons, and infectious diseases.