Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel Imagery


Diamond points out that for the longest time, hunter-gather societies were portrayed as being inferior to the ones that relied on industrial advancements to survive. Europeans, in particular, saw Native Americans and the Africans as being inferior and thus they argued that it was natural to subdue them. This idea of inferiority is illustrated through a number of images that Diamond evokes throughout the book. For example, he describes Pizarro's conquest of the Incan Empire by vividly portraying the ways in which Pizarro's forces, mounted on horses, were able to cut down Emperor Atahuallpa's numerous forces. This image of mounted horsemen ruthlessly slashing at a huge crowd of Incas illustrates some of the ways in which Europeans saw themselves as superior to the peoples who were native to the Americas.


The human race is portrayed as being aggressive from the first pages of the book. Diamond writes about the first time when the human race migrated from one land to another; this happened when humans learned how to build ships and navigate the seas safely. When these early peoples reached new lands, they changed the landscape permanently. Many animal species suffered as a result, because these early settlers aggressively over-hunted them to extinction or near-extinction. These people also aggressively domesticated animal species, tilling and reaping the land for their own agricultural benefit. Such actions often destroyed the natural landscape of the place they had moved into. Later, new settlers would also wipe out native people who lived in a given land. In all of these ways, people are portrayed as aggressive in their approach to conquering new territories.

Close proximity

In chapter 11, Diamond remembers seeing a man once have sexual intercourse with a sheep. The man then went on to catch a deadly disease from the animal, because their close proximity had allowed germs to pass from the sheep to the man. The image of the man killed after contracting a disease from his animal vividly communicates the idea that mankind often suffered because of the animals they surrounded themselves with. The biggest illnesses in history were transmitted primarily through animals. Such diseases included smallpox, AIDS, and the plague. The close proximity of animals and humans is strikingly illustrated by the story of the man and his sheep. Although this image is particularly poignant and disturbing, Diamond shows how it speaks to the many ways in which close proximity between humans and animals could lead to destructive consequences.


In chapter 13, Diamond mentions the Phaistos disk and its peculiarity: it seems to have words carved on it that were meant to be used as stamps for printing writing. The image of the disk becomes important because it is linked with the idea of technology, and the fact that humanity evolves technology in a particular way. Namely, inventions tend to crop up not in response to some existing need, but simply out of curiosity and luck. They are made use of by a given society only if they happen to latch on and become popular. The Phaistos disk is remarkable because it could have been used for printing in a time before what we know of as the printing press had been invented. But it did not latch on and become enormously popular. Thus, it is a good example of how even the best of inventions can suffer neglect and disuse if a society is not ready to adopt them at a given moment in time.