Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel Literary Elements


Non-fiction; history; anthropology

Setting and Context

The book takes a very broad view, considering the history of the world from the beginning up until the 16th century. The author analyzes different nations from all over the world and from all the continents.

Narrator and Point of View

The narrator is Diamond and he presents the events from an omniscient third person point of view.

Tone and Mood

Scientific, objective

Protagonist and Antagonist

There are no protagonists and antagonists in the book since it analyzes the events from a historical point of view and the author tries to remain as impartial as possible.

Major Conflict

There is no major conflict in the novel as the author doesn’t focus on individual conflicts between nations or individual people.


Major moments include the period in which stone and wood tools were first invented, or when humankind first domesticated plants and animals.


In the first chapter, the author notes how some believe that men were the reason why some species went extinct in countries such as New Guinea. They argue that when men became able to travel to distant lands, they interfered with the environment and did irreparable damage to it. This foreshadows the impact other societies will have on indigenous populations when they try to expand their territories.



DIamond alludes to a number of other famous texts throughout his book. For example, he alludes to Darwin's text, On the Origin of Species, when discussing the ways in which natural selection can explain plant domestication. He also alludes to Tolstoy's novel, Anna Karenina, in order to explain the idea that a single flaw can be enough to tip the balance toward an unhappy marriage—or, in the case of Diamond's text, toward a failure to domesticate a given species.


One of the most important themes in the book is the idea of one group of people dominating another. Diamond provides numerous images to illustrate how this conquest worked, and how it was often unexpected or unequal. 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.


Diamond argues that while the Europeans thought they were superior in comparison with the other countries, the truth may paradoxically be the complete opposite. In nations like Africa and New Guinea, the ones that survived were not those who had lots of money but those who were intelligent enough to hunt for food and avoid disease. This natural selection ensured that only those who were intelligent enough to survive remained while those who were not strong enough perished.


At one point, Diamond draws a parallel between the way the tribes developed in the Polynesian islands and the way the rest of the world developed. Just like the environmental differences created a natural diversity in the Polynesian islands, the differences between one country and the other favored or discouraged the advancement of one nation.

Metonymy and Synecdoche