In our earliest societies, humans lived as hunter-gatherers. The first step towards civilization is the move from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, with the domestication and farming of wild crops and animals. Agricultural production leads to food surpluses, which supports sedentary societies, rapid population growth, and specialization of labor. Large societies tend to develop ruling classes and supporting bureaucracies, which leads in turn to the organization of empires.
Although agriculture arose in several parts of the world, Eurasia gained an early advantage due to the availability of suitable plant and animal species for domestication. In particular, the Middle East had by far the best collection of plants and animals suitable for domestication – barley, two varieties of wheat and three protein-rich pulses for food; flax for textiles; goats, sheep and cattle provided meat, leather, glue (by boiling the hooves and bones) and, in the case of sheep, wool. As early Middle Eastern civilizations began to trade, they found additional useful animals in adjacent territories, most notably horses and donkeys for use in transport. In contrast, Native American farmers had to struggle to develop maize as a useful food from its probable wild ancestor, teosinte. Eurasia as a whole domesticated 13 species of large animals (over 100lb / 44 kg); South America just one (counting the llama and alpaca as breeds within the same species); the rest of the world none at all. Diamond describes the small number of domesticated species (14 out of 148 "candidates") as an instance of the Anna Karenina principle: many promising species have just one of several significant difficulties that prevent domestication. For example, horses are easily domesticated, but their biological relatives zebras and onagers are untameable; and although Asian elephants are tameable, it is very difficult to breed them in captivity.
* Other advanced cultures developed in areas whose geography was conducive to large, monolithic, isolated empires. In these conditions policies of technological and social stagnation could persist – until Europeans arrived. China was a very notable example, for example in 1432 a new Emperor outlawed the building of ocean-going ships, in which China was the world leader at the time.
* Europe's geography favored balkanization into smaller, closer, nation-states, as its many natural barriers (mountains, rivers) provide defensible borders. As a result, governments that suppressed economic and technological progress soon corrected their mistakes or were out-competed relatively quickly. As an example of this national Darwinism, Diamond offers the disappearance of the counter-progressive Polish regime. He argues that geographical factors created the conditions for more rapid internal superpower change (Spain succeeded by France and then by England) than was possible elsewhere in Eurasia.