A Real Diamond: Michael Hart`s Understanding Human History
The ambitious History of Everything book has been an
important genre at least since Sir Walter Raleigh`s
The Historie of the World.
The most popular example of recent years:
Jared Diamond`s 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Diamond attempted to explain the always-interesting
question of who conquered whom over the last 13,000
years without mentioning differences in average
intelligence among human groups—a factor that he
ruled out, a priori, as too "racist"
even to think about.
Now, there`s another entry in this genre: Michael H.
Hart`s Understanding Human History:
analysis including the effects of geography and
differential evolution (Washington Summit Publishers,
pp. 484, $24.95).
serves as a comprehensive refutation of Guns, Germs,
and Steel. It`s an impressive and insightful attempt
to provide a more careful and powerful answer to
Diamond`s question about why some peoples came to rule
Unlike Diamond, Hart is also interested in a second,
less bloodthirsty question: who gave what to the entire
human race in terms of
science, technology, and the arts.
This is a fascinating topic—but one that the Diamonds of
the world shy away from, since measuring contributions
rather than conquests don`t present an opportunity for
competitive moralism, the public
white-guilt breast-beating afforded by the European
expansion of 1400-1900.
Over the same period, as everyone knows deep down,
virtually every advance that is now the shared
patrimony of humanity was made by Europeans or their
offshoots. These days, that`s a rather inconvenient
Hart sums up:
hypothesis of this book is that genetic differences
between human groups (in particular, differences in
average native intelligence) have been an important
factor in human history."
Hart is a polymath: a rocket scientist with a Ph.D. in
astronomy who worked at NASA and was a physics professor
Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Along the
way, he picked up a law degree.
Every decade or two, Hart publishes a book for a general
audience. His best-known: 1978`s The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.
(Hart`s top six, by the way, were
St. Paul. I`m sure your
ranking would differ, but that was the fun of Hart`s
book: it was a great argument-starter. His complete list
Now, in Understanding Human History, Hart changes
his focus from individuals to racial groups. He begins
with a quick (130 pages) but close to state-of-the-art
overview of the human sciences relevant to history—physical
population genetics and
psychometrics. This section alone would be worth the
price of the book. Hart has mastered the scientific
literature through at least 2005. For instance, Hart,
who is Jewish, devotes three pages to the fascinating
theory published two years ago by genetic
Henry Harpending and
physicist turned evolutionary theorist
Gregory Cochran that European Jews evolved their
higher IQs just over the last millennium.
After reviewing the human sciences, Hart moves on to
perhaps the most concise history of the world from the
Stone Age to the late 20th Century imaginable.
Many of the famous "big histories," such as
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
Thomas Babington Macaulay`s
History of England,
Kenneth Clark`s Civilization, and
Jacques Barzun`s From Dawn to Decadence
authors` personalities. But Hart almost never stops
for a self-indulgent aside, which allows him to race
through in fewer than 500 pages. The one personal touch
widely in their behavior. Some writers have conjectured
that all such differences are due entirely to
differences in training, upbringing, and conditioning.
Those of us who have reared more than one child usually
Hart`s judgment, while laconic, is generally quite
In Guns, Germs, & Steel, Diamond purported to
explain why Europeans were able to conquer the New World
so easily by emphasizing differences between the New and
Old Worlds. Thus, Diamond pointed out that Europeans
benefited from more exposure (and thus more immunity) to
disease; from metal-working technology; from having more
species of domesticable animals; and from the broad
East-West orientation of Eurasia, allowing Old World
Turkey`s wheat to spread faster than New World crops
like Mexico`s corn, which had only been finally adapted
much shorter growing season of Massachusetts shortly
Unfortunately, Diamond`s reasoning, while clever, was
ad hoc. It was clearly whipped up to explain away a
politically incorrect reality. A real contribution to
our comprehension of history could only come from a set
of insights that would apply more globally than
Diamond`s. And that`s exactly what Hart attempts.
Diamond`s celebrated factors are reasonably plausible
for explaining the
spectacular Spanish conquests of the
Aztecs and Incas in the
16th century. But they fail to shed much light on
famous subjugations within the Old World, such as
various invasions of India and China or the 19th
Africa. Refuting Diamond, Hart points out that
sub-Saharan Africans, being part of the Old World,
were more privileged than
New World Indians in terms of the factors that
In contrast to Mesoamerican Indians, Sub-Saharan
than Europeans (for example, they had
genetic adaptations for surviving malaria). Plus
they could make iron; possessed domestic cattle, sheep,
and goats; had been exposed to literacy on their
northern edge in places like
Timbuktu; and possessed a continent that is 4,500
miles wide from Senegal to Somalia—not that much
narrower than Eurasia`s 6,200 miles.
The fundamental problem with Guns, Germs, and Steel
is one I pointed out in my 1997
"Diamond sets out to
reaffirm the equality of humanity by showing the
inequality of the continents. … Diamond makes
environmental differences seem so compelling that it`s
hard to believe that humans would not become somewhat
adapted to their homelands through natural selection."
Diamond`s millions of fans no doubt assume that
evolution couldn`t work
fast enough to diversify human behavioral
tendencies, since modern humans (presumably) emerged
from Africa only about 60,000 years ago. But the
disingenuous Diamond knows that`s
not true—evolution can work rather quickly.
In 2002, Diamond and I were pleasantly chatting after
his keynote address at junk bond legend Michael Milken`s
annual confab when I brought this up.
Diamond immediately grabbed his things and half-jogged
out of the room.
Diamond has made a lot of money pandering to current
intellectual fashions. Hart has followed a lonelier
road. For example, he has long been a
Jared Taylor`s controversial IQ and race-oriented
conferences. As he rightly says:
"This book does not
contain any suggestions as to what policies should be
adopted—with the sole exception that we should attempt
to ascertain the facts before deciding on questions of
One important fact that Hart has ascertained:
most of the instances of people from one region
attacking and conquering substantial portions of another
region have involved `northerners` invading more
This overall pattern of north conquering south has long
been apparent from the historical record—even though
northern lands are generally less populous, due to
shorter growing seasons.
For example, mighty
vast empire with a competent bureaucracy chosen by
meritocratic tests, was never much threatened by
southerners, but it built the vast
Great Wall to keep out its much less numerous
northern neighbors. Nonetheless, China was twice fully
conquered by northerners—the
Mongols in the 13th century and the Manchus in the
17th century. And its northern half was conquered by the
Manchurian Jurchens in the 12th century.
vastly populous Indian subcontinent was seldom a
threat to its northern neighbors, but was frequently
overrun from the northwest.
This pattern has been validated by recent DNA studies.
(Hart fails to mention this, which is surprising
considering how otherwise up to date he is on the human
sciences.) In populations of mixed background, the male
line of descent (as seen in the
Y-chromosome) tends to derive from north of the
homeland of the female line of descent (as seen in the
mitochondrial DNA). Implication: men from the north
more frequently overcame the men from the south and took
Latin Americans (white fathers and Indian or black
African-Americans (whites and blacks), Asian Indians
(Aryans and Dravidians), and
Icelanders (Vikings and Celts). Similarly, the
Han Chinese, the world`s largest ethnic group, are
more likely to be descended from northern Chinese men
and southern Chinese women than vice-versa.
Likewise, the man who left the largest footprint yet
found on the Y-chromosomes of humanity was
Genghis Khan from cold Mongolia. He left roughly
800,000 times more descendants in the direct male
line than the average man alive at the time.
Manchu founder of the Qing dynasty that ruled China
from 1644-1911 shows up as another of history`s most
The pattern is even true in England. The main outside
infusion of male Y-chromosomes in historic times
apparently came from the
Hart offers a simple, deliberately reductionist model
for explaining this (and much else): Foresight is needed
to survive cold winters. So harsher, more northerly
climates select for higher average intelligence. And
intelligence is useful in war.
Indeed, there is a positive correlation between latitude
and the average intelligence of modern countries, as summarized in Richard Lynn`s and Tatu Vanhanen`s IQ and the Wealth of Nations.
(Here`s my table listing their
data.) In 2006, Lynn found a substantial
r = 0.67 correlation between national average IQ and
the absolute value of latitude. Similarly, the
correlation between IQ and average temperature is
r = -0.63.
On the other hand, within continents there often aren`t
obvious latitude-related IQ disparities. For instance,
the IQ differences among most European countries are too
small to worry about.
Northerners have tended to be better at organizing on a
large scale. This could be related to intelligence, but
doesn`t have to be. During WWII, for example, according
to military historian John Keegan
Italians were probably the
worst soldiers in Europe and the
best. But Finland`s
average IQ isn`t higher than Italy`s.
No doubt other factors contribute to the long history of
Northern military successes. For example, the ease of
raising horses on the Eurasian steppe, varying family
structures—and of course the ancient moral explanation,
going back to the Roman historian
Tacitus, that contrasts northern hardiness,
self-sacrifice, and motivation with southern decadence,
backstabbing, and enervation.
Enough about conquest. What about contributions?
The most productive centers of cultural innovation have
tended to move north over the millennia, for example,
Fertile Crescent to
Ancient Greece to
Renaissance Northern Italy to
Enlightenment Northern Europe. Hart attributes this
to agriculture tending to arise first in low-to-medium
latitude locations with long growing seasons then
spreading northward. In hunter-gatherer economies, every
man must hunt. But in farming economies, enough food can
be produced to support urban sophisticates.
Hart`s position is likely to accumulate still more
scientific support. There are several forthcoming papers
that will offer
even newer insights into evolution`s impact on
recent human history.
For example, Hart assumes, not unreasonably, that higher
intelligence has been evolving steadily upward since
modern humans first spread out from Africa about 60,000
years ago, under the Darwinian selective pressure of
surviving cold winters. But Greg Cochran is now
proposing that evolution for intelligence and other
behavioral traits useful in the modern world is actually
Cochran reasons that a large population is more
conducive to increases in intelligence than a small
population—the more people in a breeding pool, the
higher the chance of favorable mutations. Thus, the
combination of temperate climates and large populations
in Northeast Asia and Europe would explain the high
average IQs, and consequent economic dominance, of those
two regions. Conversely, while the Arctic climate likely
selects strongly for cleverness, the inevitably limited
number of Eskimos means they have fewer gene variations
to select from.
Reflecting this notion that evolution speeding up,
Nicholas Wade of the New York Times
reported last week on the new book A Farewell To Alms
Greg Clark on the historic changes in behavior and
attitude that enabled the English to start the
"Dr. Clark says the
middle-class values needed for productivity could have
been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But
in some passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as
the explanation. `Through the long agrarian passage
leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was
becoming biologically more adapted to the modern
economic world,` he writes. And, `The triumph of
capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in
our genes as in ideology or rationality.`"[
In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence,
August 7, 2007]
brings new clarity to the vast sweep of human history.
I predict, therefore, that it will make only a tiny
fraction as much money as Guns, Germs, and Steel.
But in the long run, it will likely matter more.