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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
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HEALTH- MEDICINE - SCIENCE > 4. GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL ~ CHAPTERS 7 AND 8 (114 - 156) (10/04/10 - 10/10/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 30, 2010 09:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Hello Everyone,

For the week of October 4th through October 10th, we are reading approximately the next 40 pages of Guns, Germs and Steel.

This thread will discuss the following Chapters and pages (it opens up on Oct 4th or the evening of the 3rd):

Week Four – October 4th – October 10th -> Chapters SEVEN and EIGHT p. 114 - 156
SEVEN – How To Make An Almond and EIGHT – Apples or Indians

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we have done for other spotlighted reads.

We kicked everything off on September 12th. We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, on iTunes for the ipad, etc. However, be careful, some audible formats are abridged and not unabridged.

There is still remaining time to obtain the book and get started.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

Welcome,

~Bentley

Week of October 4th - October 10th

Week Four – October 4th – October 10th -> Chapters SEVEN and EIGHT p. 114 - 156
SEVEN – How To Make An Almond and EIGHT – Apples or Indians

This is a link to the complete table of contents and syllabus thread:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/3...


We are off to a good beginning.

TO SEE ALL WEEK'S THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond Jared DiamondJared Diamond


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 28, 2010 09:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments And so we begin this week's reading:

Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine show how crops and livestock came in prehistoric times to be domesticated from ancestral wild plants and animals, by incipient farmers and herders who could have had no vision of the outcome.

Geographic differences in the local suites of wild plants and animals available for domestication go a long way toward explaining why only a few areas became independent centers of food production, and why it arose earlier in some of those areas than in others.

From those few centers of origin, food production spread much more rapidly to some areas than to others. A major factor contributing to those differing rates of spread turns out to have been the orientation of the continents' axes: predominantly west-east for Eurasia, predominantly north-south for the Americas and Africa which is where we head for Chapter Ten.

This week, however, even though Jared Diamond combined the chapters together in the Prologue when describing his objectives for the book and these segments; we are only focusing on Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight.

How to Make An Almond which is Chapter Seven tries to answer the question: "How did certain wild plants get turned into crops?" That question is especially puzzling in regard to the many crops (like almonds) whose wild progenitors are lethal or bad-tasting, and to other crops (like corn) that look dramatically different from their wild ancestors. What cavewoman or caveman ever got the idea of "domesticating" a plant, and how was it accomplished?

Apples or Indians which is Chapter Eight tries to answer the questions: Why did agriculture never arise independently in some fertile and highly suitable areas, such as California, Europe, temperate Australia, and subequatorial Africa? Also, why, among the areas where agriculture did arise independently, did it develop much earlier in some than in others?

Only Chapters 7-8 are our focus this week. However, we can also discuss on this thread all areas of the book from the Prologue through the end of eight.


message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 03, 2010 09:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments These are the reader's guide questions that we should be able to address thus far:


1. What are the other commonly espoused answers to "Yali's questions," and how does Jared Diamond address and refute each of them?

2. Why does Diamond hypothesize that New Guineans might be, on the average, "smarter" than Westerners?

3. Why is it important to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes?

4. Do you find some of Diamond's methodologies more compelling than others? Which, and why?

5. What is the importance of the order of the chapters?
Why, for example, is "Collision at Cajamarca" - which describes events that occur thousands of years after those described in the subsequent chapters - placed where it is?

6. How are Polynesian Islands "an experiment of history"? What conclusions does Diamond draw from their history?

7. How does Diamond challenge our assumptions about the transition from hunter-gathering to farming?

8. How is farming an "auto-catalytic" process? Hows does this account for the great disparities in societies, as well as for the possibilities of parallel evolution?

9. Why did almonds prove domesticable while acorns were not? What significance does this have?

10. How does Diamond explain the fact that domesticable American apples and grapes were not domesticated until the arrival of Europeans?

11. What were the advantages enjoyed by the Fertile Crescent that allowed it to be the earliest site of development for most of the building blocks of civilization? How does Diamond explain the fact that it was nevertheless Europe and not Southwest Asia that ended up spreading its culture to the rest of the world?



Patrick Sprunger 9. Why did almonds prove domesticable while acorns were not? What significance does this have?

One of the most fascinating things, for me, about the "How to Make an Almond" chapter was the fact that oak (and beech and hickory) trees were never domesticated partly due to the fact that squirrels outcompeted us.

The way nuts taste is determined by the aesthetic of the animal species who spread them. Humans made almonds palatable by selecting the milder, or less bitter, tasting mutations. Undoubtedly, there is the errant mild acorn out there as well, but squirrels have the market cornered on acorn sampling and seeding. Thus the peculiar preference of squirrels for bitter nuts has kept the fruit of the oak tree unpalatable to humans.

If only this was useful for something other than trivia!

(Of course, the taste/squirrel competition answer is secondary to the fact that it takes a long time to bring an oak tree to fruition. The time investment necessary in growing oak trees was the first line against oak domestication.)


message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Those squirrels! I think the ones in my back yard would certainly outcompete me (smile).

I think your last paragraph about how long it took to bring an oak tree to fruition was the major reason.

Great response Patrick about the acorns. Now what was there about the almonds that made them different from the acorns and from oak trees?


Patrick Sprunger "Now what was there about the almonds that made them different from the acorns and from oak trees?"

Wasn't it the time it takes an almond tree to bear fruit? If I recall, it's three years to the oak's ten.

Then, there's the fact that there are already a lot of oak trees producing a significant acorn crop without any human intervention (of interest to those who are willing to blanch acorn paste to remove the tannins).

Then there is the cyanide content in wild almonds, preventing smaller animals from undercutting humans' manipulation of almond genes. Humans selected the non-bitter almonds and replanted them, gradually turning a rare mutation into a domestic species. Squirrels and birds would not have selected the palatable almond frequently enough to produce the same effect. Having eaten one bitter almond, squirrels and birds would likely avoid all future almonds and thus not encounter the mild one.

That's right, right?


Patrick Sprunger I think an interesting question is:

If Native Americans knew what Eurasians knew about genetics, would they have recognized the enormous potential of a ready-to-eat acorn crop and invested the centuries of effort needed to domesticate oak trees?

The time required is daunting, but the stakes are high. Unlike the Mediterranean climate that produced wild almonds, there is not a parallel package of foodstuffs naturally occurring in North America. In many ways, the almond is an eccentricity - proof of humans' commitment to control of their environment - because almonds were not absolutely necessary for Mesopotamian preeminence.

However, as a boy scout in the American south, I learned how the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, etc. tribes processed acorns into meal. It sucked. It was time, fuel, and water intensive. But it was necessary because of the dearth of other crops until Mexican and Eurasian imports arrived.

This is the height of speculation, but I think Native Americans would have given it a try if they understood the genetic potential of domestic oak.


message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Patrick wrote: ""Now what was there about the almonds that made them different from the acorns and from oak trees?"

Wasn't it the time it takes an almond tree to bear fruit? If I recall, it's three years to th..."


Yes, great post (number 6). I just wanted us to have both sides of the answer posted.


message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments You make a good point about the acorns. And when you are hungry something (even an acorn) is better than nothing.

Who knows with grafting and whatever (if they had these skills and they didn't) a delicious edible acorn might have developed with a faster growing type of variety of oak tree,


Michael Flanagan (Loboz) | 1077 comments I found it interesting that what it boils down to is we cultivated the reject plants, the ones that mutated.


message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments That is really odd isn't Michael? Nature determined what we were left with.


Michael Flanagan (Loboz) | 1077 comments The reverse of Darwinism in a way


message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments The mutated ones were probably or ended up being stronger.


message 14: by Patricrk (last edited Oct 05, 2010 02:40AM) (new)

Patricrk patrick | 475 comments Darwin preferred the term "Natural Selection" and this is a case of "Human Selection". Darwin does a lot of discussion about human selection in regards to pigeons and other domesticated animals. From the tree's point of view, this change increases it chance of having offspring since humans gather the nuts and plant them and protect them. They also protect the main tree. If the whole purpose of change is to increase the number of offspring, then this makes sense from the tree's standpoint. Same for wheat, cows and pigs they have managed to spread across the world in record numbers by changes that have them more useful to humans but accomplish the goal of increasing offspring. This is exactly the mechanism that Darwin proposed.


Michael Flanagan (Loboz) | 1077 comments Well explained


message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 05, 2010 06:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Patricrk wrote: "Darwin preferred the term "Natural Selection" and this is a case of "Human Selection". Darwin does a lot of discussion about human selection in regards to pigeons and other domesticated animals. ..."

Patricrk, please cite your sources and follow our guidelines. Which Darwin source. Since he is an author, please cite him. I have done it this time.

And how do Darwin's theories disagree with Diamonds (if you are reading the book).

Patricrk, I will ask this for the "last time". Are you reading the Diamond book now or did you read it some time ago?

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin Charles DarwinCharles Darwin


message 17: by Garret (last edited Oct 05, 2010 10:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Garret (ggannuch) | 373 comments These chapters lead me to wonder how the world would have been different:
if the Fertile Crescent had not been populated with humans
if plate tectonics had isolated the continents differently
if human evolution had occurred at an earlier time when the continental plates were in different geographic locations
if Europeans had learned to master the trade winds at a later time, delaying their entrance into American and Australia and the populations of America and Australia had a chance to domesticate more plants, etc...


Garret (ggannuch) | 373 comments Diamond alludes to species of plants that were around at the time domestication started but have since gone extinct. Does anyone know how many species are no longer with us?


message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Garret wrote: "These chapters lead me to wonder how the world would have been different:
if the Fertile Crescent had not been populated with humans
if plate tectonics had isolated the continents differently
i..."


Wow...an alternate history of migration and evolution of plants, animals, humans, etc.


message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments There is the Extinction Website which has some very interesting lists.

http://extinct.petermaas.nl/

Somewhere I read that 99.9% of all species that have lived are now extinct. Of course, this is a natural phenomenon. I will try to find the source of that statement if I can.

Here is another article of endangered species with some interesting percentages:

http://www.scienceclarified.com/El-Ex...

This is also an interesting article from sustainable table:

Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture.

Within the past 15 years, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct. In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct.

In the US, a few main breeds dominate the livestock industry:

83 percent of dairy cows are Holsteins, and five main breeds comprise almost all of the dairy herds in the US.

60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds.

75 percent of pigs in the US come from only 3 main breeds.

Over 60 percent of sheep come from only four breeds, and 40 percent are Suffolk-breed sheep.


http://www.sustainabletable.org/issue...


message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Garret,

This is where I read it:

Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction

The article cited two sources for this statement:

^ a b c Newman, Mark. "A Mathematical Model for Mass Extinction". Cornell University. May 20, 1994. URL accessed July 30, 2006.

^ a b Raup, David M. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? W.W. Norton and Company. New York. 1991. pp.3-6 ISBN 978-0-393-30927-0

The statement was:

Extinction, though, is usually a natural phenomenon; it is estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct.[2][3]

Modeling Extinction by M. E. J. NewmanM. E. J. Newman

The above book was by the same guy.

Extinction  Bad Genes or Bad Luck? by David M. RaupDavid M. Raup

The above book was by the second source.


message 22: by Patricrk (new)

Patricrk patrick | 475 comments Bentley wrote: "Patricrk wrote: "Darwin preferred the term "Natural Selection" and this is a case of "Human Selection". Darwin does a lot of discussion about human selection in regards to pigeons and other domest..."

There is nothing Diamond is saying that contradicts Darwin. It is just that the selective pressure is provided by humans and it is to make the plants and animals more useful to humans. The plants and animals (as a species) benefit in that they are more likely to have off spring.

I have the read the book before and am using an audio book now. It is rather dry and sleep inducing so I am getting the story rather disjointed as it keeps playing as I drift off.


message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Now I understand the issues you are having (smile).

I don't think this is the kind of book for audio (lol); but I digress.

Paragraph One: You make a good point.


message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 06, 2010 08:59AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Garret, for some reason I believe that Diamond answers the question from "simply the plant perspective". Did you have some other questions regarding extinction? Also, I will look further to see if this possibly was in a later chapter.

Also as far as the focus on what would have happened if the Fertile Crescent was void of humans; then I think that the next most favorable geographical location which did have humans would have been the substitute "Fertile Crescent" .

There is a very interesting article on Climate Change and the effects on the Fertile Crescent (currently) which I have placed in the glossary for reading.

Also folks, Garret asked some fun questions in message 17 which might be fun to contemplate.


Andrea | 129 comments Garret does ask some really interesting questions. I am going to try to track down a book I ran across once that discussed plants that are becoming extinct because the animals they depended on for digesting their seed coats or distributing their seeds had become extinct. I think it mentioned a tree in South America that produced large fruits that weren't opened and eaten by anything because the giant sloth(?) that used to eat them had become extinct. Has anyone else run across this book? It seems like an example of how human activity determined the survival of a plant that might, in some future time, have been useful to us. (The speculation is that human hunting caused the large animal to become extinct).


Andrea | 129 comments I am really sorry not to have found this book yet. I will need to go to the public library where I saw it and wander the stacks. Not a bad way to spend time, of course:)


message 27: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Not at all and I believe some used book stores may have a copy because it has been out for some time.

Thanks for your posts Andrea as always.


Rodney | 83 comments I found these two chapters very dry. There were interesting from a pure education standpoint, but as someone who grew up working at an orchard, I understood the concepts.

I'm hoping that this background knowledge is building to something more in the next few chapters.


message 29: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments I agree that the plant chapters are more dry than the rest. I always say plow through and things will get better. Since I have finished the book I can say that with some knowledge.


message 30: by Patrick (last edited Oct 08, 2010 05:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Patrick Sprunger "Plow" through. Ha!


message 31: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Oh dear..not intended to be humorous but apropos.


Andrea | 129 comments Yes, I agree that these chapters are fairly elementary for those who grew up around agriculture. But I think Diamond's accomplishment with the book is said to be how he pulls all the information together to support his main thesis. He doesn't want to leave out readers who might not have the background details to follow what he's building toward.


message 33: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments Andrea, that is an excellent point and thank you for making it. I agree; though for some certain chapters might be tedious or elementary depending upon the reader's background...Diamond more than makes up for it as he brings the triad together.


message 34: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 28444 comments And how about the questions in message 3? Patrick did a good job with the almond focused one but what of the others especially 10 and 11. Give these some thought as we move forward.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (other topics)
The Origin of Species (other topics)
Modeling Extinction (other topics)
Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Jared Diamond (other topics)
Charles Darwin (other topics)
M. E. J. Newman (other topics)
David M. Raup (other topics)