Jared Diamond | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jared Diamond 

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Why is it that, out of all the world's peoples, Europeans were the ones who discovered and conquered so many others? Few historians deal with this question. It took an outsider, UCLA physiologist Jared Diamond, to put together an answer in the best-selling 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Drawing on fields from archaeology to crop genetics, Diamond concludes that Europeans dominated in part because of geography: they came from a continent with few barriers (allowing useful innovations to diffuse easily) and many plants and animals that could be usefully domesticated (the germs they harbored proved devastating to Native Americans). Diamond claims moral as well as intellectual reasons for telling this story. In the absence of any other explanation for the European conquest, he writes, people often resort, "consciously or unconsciously, to racist assumptions. . . . That prevalence of racist theories, as loathsome as they are unsupported, is the strongest reason for studying the long-term factors behind human history." Last month, regardless, a couple of anthropologists at the blog savageminds.org tried to tag Diamond as a racially insensitive apologist. I think they're just jealous. Tue 10/11, 7:30 PM, Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-665-7400. $24-$30, $15 students and educators. Advance tickets recommended.

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