Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond asks answers multiple versions of the question Why did Society X conquer Society Y? It identifies a number of factors–obvious and not–that led to one group becoming more advanced than another.
Trivia (that I’m reciting from memory and haven’t fact-checked):
- Zebras are harder to lassoo than horses because they watch the rope being thrown and dodge it
- It’s harder for a society to spread/conquer their way north-south than east-west. As the weather changes more when you head north or south, crops and animals may not be able to grow/breed there
- A Spanish conquistador named Pizarro, with the help of just a few hundred troops with guns and horses, was able to capture an Incan ruler while he was surrounded by 80,000 of his followers (who didn’t have guns or horses). Guns are a force multiplier
- Horses are inseparable from the image of America’s wild west. Conjure an image of a native American entering battle on horseback or a gunslinging stranger arriving in a small town. Yet horses weren’t native to America, and were brought by Europeans.
- A group’s shift from hunter-gatherers to farmers can bring with it lots of societal change. Not everyone has to spend all day searching for food. Hence the creation of the specialist. Members of a group can now spend their time on other things, like smithing metal. Now you’ve got people who can make weapons, or spend their time training with them (the professional soldier). Now you’ve got priests who can find a religious reason for your group to destroy another, or bureacrats who can find a political one.