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Spring Edition
Volume 97, Number 4


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Gerald Hess
Probing societies’ most enduring mysteries

Physiologist turned biogeographer Jared Diamond begins Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies with a question from Yali, a New Guinean politician: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea?” (p.14). This simple question dramatizes Yali’s later assertion that there is a huge difference between the lifestyles of the average New Guinean and that of the average American. Diamond suggests that this simple question is a difficult one to answer—and, in fact, the entire book is an attempt to begin formulating an answer.

As a physiologist, I found myself continually intrigued with the biological and geographical information and insights that Diamond developed throughout this book. According to this author, the answer to why societies developed differently on different continents is due to various factors outside of human biology. Similar insights arise throughout the book, piquing readers’ interest. For example, the author points out that only a few large animal species have been domesticated, though thousands are known to exist. As a result, cultures fortunate enough to have access to advantageous large animal species have advanced farther technologically than those having access to smaller species. Each chapter provides additional biogeographical examples in support of the author’s thesis that different cultures have been dealt a different hand of resources.

—Gerald Hess is a professor of biology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.

Gerald Hess began teaching at Messiah College in 1970 after earning his Ph.D. from Michigan State University that same year. Hess states that the most rewarding aspect of his job is “the opportunity to share my love of science in general and biology in particular with students.” His continued involvement in the lives of his former students—especially those who have continued their professional growth and Christian ministry across the globe—gives Hess’ years as a Messiah educator “a deep sense of meaning.”

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