It's been a while since I've read an entire book. That is, a proper thick book with over 400 pages. However, I recently finished reading "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It won the 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize. Its subtitle is "a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years".
Diamond sets out to explain why human history turned out the way it did. His thesis is that the big picture of history is completely a product of environmental factors and has nothing to do with racial capabilities.
He covers the early human disporas, the rise of food production and the invention and spread of technologies. It's a fascinating story.
The gist is that the Fertile Crescent had an overwhelming advantage in the number of domesticatible seeds and animals. China had the next best collection. These areas developed agriculture and the earliest civillisations giving them a head start. Because of the East-West primary orientation of the Eurasian continent, food production and technologies spread easily. Meanwhile, the Americas and Africa had a poor collection of domesticatible seeds and animals and a primary North-South orientation. Farming developed slowly and did not spread easily in these regions. With greater food production, Eurasia developed higher population densities which led to increases in disease and immunity, sophisticated government, technology development and warfare.
China was, for most of history, the most advanced nation on earth. The anomally of China's recent isolation and stagnation left the world to western domination in the last few hundred years. It's interesting to watch the explosive development of China as it takes back its historic position in the world.
Diamond does discuss in detail developments in North and South America, Africa, China, Polynesia and Australia. What I'm left not understanding is why India did not play a more powerful role. It had a head start in the Indus Valley, early food production and access to technology and trade with the other early civillisations. I need to read more about Indian history.