Cars & Guns, Germs & Steel

We watched Pixar's animated movie "Cars" last night and loved it.  We thought it started off a little slow (ironic for a movie about car racing) but then the story and characters really came together and cracked us up big-time.  We especially liked the dopey towtruck character, the hippie VW and the hummer who owned the army surplus store.

I'm making my way through Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and the best way I can sum it up so far is that it is truly transforming my view of the world.  The author (a professor at UCLA--go Bruins) has spent over three decades examining why certain people groups flourished and were able to conquer the others.  The topic is complex but there are remarkably clear explanations for why Europeans became dominant over the last thousand years in particular.  Here's a few things I found very interesting:

- there are not many plants in the world that people can eat and all of the major ones were already identified and being regularly harvested over 2000 years ago:  wheat, corn, rice and a couple others.  There aren't many animals that can be domesticated either and almost all of them were domesticated thousands of years ago as well and this hasn't changed over the centuries (cows, pigs, goats, chickens and dogs are about it.  People have tried to domesticate zebras, for example, but it's simply not feasible.)

- why do many plants have juicy, sweet fruit with seeds in them?  To entice animals--and people--to eat them and cause the seeds to be distributed all over.

- Why did the key domesticated crops spread quickly throughout Europe and Eurasia--but not through Africa and North America?  Because crops can grow well in land that has the same latitude and climate.  Eurasia stretches from East to West--while Africa and North America have a long "y-axis" North to South--and so crops were easily transferred between China and Western Europe, for example, but not between Egypt and South Africa.

Finally, the author includes a disturbing first-hand account of how Pizzaro's 168 Spanish soldiers killed 7000 Incan warriors in one day without losing a single man.  They did it mainly through their cavalry and steel swords which the Incas were helpless to defend against.  The book is sobering because it shows how humans--throughout our entire history--are unceasingly driven to conquer and annihilate other groups of people to gain land and resources.

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