We believe that human originated from monkey. At some point people migrated from Africa to all over the world. Despite this shared origin, there are peoples so different that when they meet again, one is much more advanced than another, hence the total dominance. Typical examples are the poor fates of Australian Aborigines, the American Natives, and the African tribes. Why?

There are plenty of factors that come into play, which have been studied extensively by History. However, various factors such as technology, politics, and culture call for further questions why they became what they were, and this book traces back to the ultimate factor: environment. Meanwhile, it inevitably made flaky arguments here and there, but the author has made an impressive attempt at solving the mystery of the pre-history period: how environment affects human societies earlier on, and how such effects render itself in recent human history.

Disclaimers: any claim about the effects of the environment on human societies after writings have been developed must be taken with a grain of salt. The reason is that a more sophisticated society depends less on the surrounding environment, making it harder to draw relationships between environment and human development.

In short, the earlier human societies are affected heavily by the surrounding’s ecology and geography. A group of hunter-gatherers can only settle to become farmer-herders if

  1. There are suitable crops for cultivation and animals for domestication, or
  2. Such crops and animals are spreaded from somewhere else

Had Africa’s rhinos and hippos been domesticated and ridden, they would not only have fed armies but also have provided an unstoppable cavalry to cut through the ranks of European horsemen. Rhino-mounted Bantu shock troops could have overthrown the Roman Empire.

The spreading of technology and species depends on the geography context. This determines which people are destined to be isolated, and will lose in the long run.

To create such a big picture, this book draws arguments from many fields: archaeology, history, evolutionary biology, geography, and linguistics, with a surprisingly approachable writing style. It easily gains my recommendation of a MUST read!