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"
and "loathsome"
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).

Hart`s book
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
other peoples.

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:

"The central
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



, Buddha,

, and

St. Paul.
I`m sure your

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

. 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

published two years ago by genetic

Henry Harpending

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
Edward Gibbon`s

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 
are suffused
with their

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
I noticed: 

"Individuals differ
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
think otherwise."

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
crops like

Turkey`s wheat
to spread faster than New World crops
like Mexico`s corn, which had only been finally adapted
to the

much shorter growing season
of Massachusetts shortly
before the


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

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
century European


. 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
Diamond emphasizes.

In contrast to Mesoamerican Indians, Sub-Saharan
Africans had

more disease-resistance

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

; and possessed a continent that is 4,500
miles wide from Senegal to Somalia—not that much
narrower than Eurasia`s 6,200 miles.

And yet, Africans

didn`t build
anything close to comparable to the
hidden city of

Machu Picchu
(Incan) or the pyramids of

Chichen Itza
(Mayan) and

(Central Mexican).

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

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
American Renaissance

. 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:

"Throughout history,
most of the instances of people from one region
attacking and conquering substantial portions of another
region have involved `northerners` invading more
southerly lands."

(The biggest exception: the

of the 7th Century A.D. And the Romans
conquered in

all directions

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

, a

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.

Likewise, the

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

) 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
their women.


Latin Americans
(white fathers and Indian or black

(whites and blacks), Asian Indians
(Aryans and Dravidians), and

(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
fecund forefathers.

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

.) 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


. 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

, that contrasts northern hardiness,
self-sacrifice, and motivation with southern decadence,
backstabbing, and enervation.

Nor is climate the only factor determining
intelligence—or the

would be the smartest people on Earth. (They
are, however, probably the

smartest hunter-gatherers

Enough about conquest. What about contributions?

The most productive centers of cultural innovation have
tended to move north over the millennia, for example,
from the

Fertile Crescent

Ancient Greece

Renaissance Northern Italy

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

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
Industrial Revolution:

"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]

Understanding Human

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.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website

features his daily