Laying a Foundation of History

The first thing I’d like to mention is that never in my life have I been more forced to read a book than the chapters assigned in Diamond’s. Having read it laying on the couch Monday morning, it was not the best way to start my morning off. I found Diamond’s writing to be drab and dense, and keeping my head focused on his writing was difficult. He really obviously likes to use sophisticated words to explain his concepts, and that makes the readings more difficult to comprehend. However, with that being said, there were definitely a few subjects he brought up that caught my attention more than others parts of his book.

Diamond, throughout the chapters, ultimately lays down a foundation for understanding human history. He describes how the earliest people depended on hunting and gathering food, rather than farming and agriculture. An early statement he had was how “today, most people on Earth consume food that they produced themselves or that someone else produced for them” (pg. 86), bringing up the question of how the hunter and gatherer lifestyle gradually faded out, and agriculture took over. One way Diamond explains this is by explaining the indirect and direct values of early crops and livestock as food. By selecting the best crops to grow, the total calories obtained are far more than those acquired just by hunting/gathering. Livestock help the crops by creating manure and pulling plows; they also aided people by supplying milk, meat, and fur. The livestock and selected crops, in turn, led to denser human populations because it was an easier lifestyle to live, and allowed mothers to have and support more children.

Diamond goes on the further explain why hunters and gatherers got phased out – the arrival of foreign crops and animals supplied a richer food source, and the hunters/gatherers remaining might have gotten driven out or killed by other coming in to grow their own crops. Quite sad to think about, but it was almost revolutionary. Anything that made life easier was thought highly of.

A good section of the book that caught my attention was the competition between hunting/gathering and food production. Overall, Diamond explains five factors that led to the phasing out of hunting and gathering: “The decline in the availability of wild foods…increased availability of domesticable wild plants made steps leading to plant domestication more rewarding…the cumulative development of technologies in which food production would eventually depend…the link between the rise in human population density and the rise in food production…and geographic boundaries between hunter-gatherer and food producers” (pg. 110-112). Reading this gave me an understanding in why plant domestication came to rule, and was actually interesting.

As a result of this, hunters and gatherers were either taken over by neighboring food producers, or survived only by adopting food production themselves.

Although this book was rather quite boring to read (even more than, say, my molecular genetics textbook), I did enjoy some interesting parts, like why and how the hunting-gathering lifestyle gradually faded out, and the lifestyle with domesticated plants and animals took over. Diamond gives us an informative and somewhat insightful history of the world’s agriculture and humans, but I will say again that it was very dense and hard to read at some, or most, parts.

Overall, I have a much better insight to how the world developed plant production. Of course, there are still many cultures in the world that depend on hunting and gathering there food. However, most cultures and societies today depend completely on food that they produced or others have produced, and it was definitely interesting to read about the history that led to where we are today


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