WASHINGTON (June 1, 2005)—One culture — Western European — has dominated the development of the modern world. In 1972, scientist, professor and author Jared Diamond wondered why. The result was the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Now National Geographic presents a new television program in a further attempt to answer the basic question, “Why were Europeans able to take over other cultures and disseminate so much influence?” The epic three-part series premieres on PBS on three consecutive Mondays, July 11, July 18 and July 25, at 10 p.m. ET/PT (check local listings).
Traveling across the globe, Diamond takes viewers on a compelling journey for a revealing look at the rise and fall of societies through the lenses of geography, technology, biology and economics — forces symbolized by the power of guns, germs and steel. The production uses Diamond’s bestseller as a jumping-off point, presenting interviews with leading historians and researchers and historical recreations to explain why societies advanced at different paces and why some became conquerors while others were conquered.
Do guns, germs and steel continue to have an impact on the modern world? Diamond goes to the Tropical Disease Research Centre in Zambia to find out. There he encounters a host of young children afflicted with malaria, the No. 1 killer of children under the age of five in Africa. The disease, to which Africans were once immune, has had a devastating impact on modern Africa’s younger generation. Close living conditions have been a contributing factor to the rate of infection and acceleration of the disease. It is just one of today’s most extreme examples of germs wreaking havoc on an ill-prepared population.
The emotional visit visibly jars Diamond. “There’s a difference between understanding something intellectually and experiencing it firsthand,” said Diamond. “In my book, germs was one of the three main forces of history, and it’s impersonal, and it’s still a different entity…and it hits me to be in a place where germs are in action.”
“‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ is a rare book because it makes you think differently about the world. Jared’s argument is simple on the surface, but once you absorb its implications you suddenly see a link between geography and history, and it transforms the way you think about both,” said Michael Rosenfeld, executive vice president, television programming and production for National Geographic Television & Film (NGT&F) and executive producer of the series. “I think this story will appeal to anyone curious about the world and how it came to be so divided between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.”
“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is organized into three one-hour chapters. The first, “The Crucible of Civilization,” premiering Monday, July 11, examines how a society’s potential for advanced development may have been determined by simple geography. Diamond shows how a few lucky societies in places like the Fertile Crescent benefited from access to animals that could be domesticated and plants that could form the basis of agriculture. As Diamond and several experts show, geographic advantages such as surpluses of food allowed those cultures the ability to trade and develop technologies that gave them an ever-increasing edge over their neighbors, leading in turn to the development of successful civilizations.
In part two, “The Clash of Civilizations,” premiering Monday, July 18, National Geographic travels to South America and the site of the Spanish conquistadors’ near extermination of the Inca culture in the early 1500s. Brought to life through vivid re-enactments, the episode dramatically depicts conquistador Francisco Pizarro’s epic battle with the Inca king Atahualpa. The Inca people quickly proved no match for the conquistadors’ formidable arsenal of technologically advanced weaponry and killer germs. The sheer domination of the conquistadors over the Inca served as yet another powerful example of the impact geography, weapons and disease had in shaping the course of human history.
Part three, “Haves and Have-nots,” premiering Monday, July 25, follows Diamond to Africa, where he traces the migration of Dutch settlers into southern and central Africa. Spoiled by a happy circumstance of geographic commonality between cultures, the Europeans were dumbfounded when they found themselves floundering in areas north of Africa’s Cape. The further they traveled from their latitudinal comfort zone, the less adaptive they became to local germs and agriculture. Africans, meanwhile, had been able to adapt their lifestyles and build their immunity to suit their environment, and were unaffected by the challenges experienced by the Europeans. But as their environment changes and Africans are increasingly being forced out of their traditional way of life, today’s generation is experiencing new challenges that affect their health, productivity and economic well-being.
The key to overcoming a society’s disadvantages, Diamond concludes, is the ability to understand one’s environment. “Explanations give you power, they give you power to change,” said Diamond. “They tell us what happened in the past and why, and we can use that knowledge to make different things happen in the future.”
“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. The series is a Lions Television, Ltd., production for National Geographic Television & Film. Michael Rosenfeld and Richard Bradley served as executive producers. Tim Lambert served as producer and director. The series is narrated by Peter Coyote.
Building on its global reputation for remarkable visuals and compelling stories, National Geographic Television & Film augments its award-winning documentary productions (124 Emmy Awards and more than 900 other industry awards) with feature films, giant-screen films, kids’ programming and long-form television drama programming. Worldwide, National Geographic’s television programming can be seen on the National Geographic Channel, PBS, home video and DVD, and through international broadcast syndication. National Geographic Channel is received by more than 230 million households in 27 languages in 153 countries. For more information about NGT&F, log on to nationalgeographic.com; AOL Keyword: NatGeo
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