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If you, like me, occasionally write stories in made-up worlds, the book (and/or Nat Geo special of the book) Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond is a resource you don't want to be without.

Have you ever wondered why it was Europeans who conquered North and South America and not the other way around? Why did the conquistadors kill so many Native Americans with diseases but didn't get any from the natives themselves?

This book attempts to answer these questions and many others.

From the Preface:

This book attempts to provide a short history of everybody for the past 13,000 years. The question motivating the book is: Why did history unfold differently on different continents? In case [you think] that you are about to read a racist treatise, you aren't: as you will see, the answers to the question don't involve human racial differences at all. This book's emphasis is on the search for ultimate explanations, and on pushing back the chain of historical causation as far as possible.

I am right now in the middle of viewing the National Geographic special made of this book, though I plan to read the book as well. Not only is it a fascinating read that looks deeper beyond the textbook history that we were all force-fed, it's also a good resource for worldbuilders. If you want to create a society that conquers everything in their path, make sure they have the the advantages they need to become the top of the food chain. Or, if your society stays small and agrarian, then use the knowledge from this book to make that happen for your fictional world.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
sinvraal
Jun. 3rd, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
I LOVE this book, in no small part because it debunks a lot of racial and cultural myths about why white Europeans ended up in such a position of power for so long -- and it has nothing whatsoever to do with a particular stock of humans and everything to do with environment, circumstance, and in a lot of ways, blind luck.

I have to find that NG special! And I totally agree, it's a fantastic resource for worldbuilding, really getting down to the nuts and bolts of what encourages the emergence of civilizations.

While we're on book recs, I'd also put forth Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, which details the Stanford Prison Experiment. It's not worldbuilding, it's human psychology, but man, it's head-trip. I'd recommend it as a study for creating good antagonists, or even just good people who go wrong and how a villain could get a lot of followers despite doing awful things.

rose_in_shadow
Jun. 3rd, 2013 09:25 pm (UTC)
It's funny that in school I don't remember the racist view of history being taught, but there was never any *reason* given for just why the world ended up the way it did. I assumed, of course, that there were a lot of factors, but to have them laid out so logically is amazing and so interesting. It makes my inner history geek squee. :D

The NG special is available on netflix streaming, which is how I've been watching it. My library also has a copy.
cahill42
Jun. 7th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
I've seen Diamond's book around but haven't picked it up. I'll have to check out the NatGeo special.

That Standford Prison scared the crap out of me in my sociology class. Humans are scary beings.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )