Anna Karenina Principle


In his book Guns Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond uses the Anna Karenina Principle to explain the success of certain societies as opposed to others by explaining how some animals could domesticated and some could not.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (1948 film)

Anna Karenina (1948 film)

The first line of Tolstoy’s great novel tries to explain why some relationships work and others fail. According to Diamond, this also applies to the process of domesticating animals.

Just like relationships fail for many different reasons, certain societies failed to domesticate the animals in their respective geographic regions for different reasons.

There are many contributing factors which make a family, or a marriage happy; however, if one of those key components fails, the whole thing falls apart or loses its ability to be considered happy – the same is true for the successful domestication of animals.

Diamond tries to explain how some species of mammals were not domesticated because they were not a good fit with man.

“The Anna Karenina principle explains a feature of animal domestication that had heavy consequences for human history, namely that so many seemingly suitable wild mammal species, such as zebras and peccaries have never been domesticated.” – Jared Diamond, Guns Germs and Steel

According to the Anna Karenia principle – which says that if one of the basic factors of a good relationship fails, the marriage or the relationship will not succeed – applying this to the domestication of animals goes like this: if the animals in an environment were not a good fit for domestication than the society could not access this resource in the same way that the successful Eurasians did because they had animals in their geographic region that were easy to domesticate.

For example, just like happy marriages that have certain factors for success, domesticating animals also have to fit into certain categories in order to succeed in becoming domestic and therefore assisting man in his survival.

1. Diet; It matters what they eat and how much, if the animal eats too much than it isn’t worth the effort to domesticate.

2. Growth Rate; To be worth keeping or domesticating, animals must grow quickly.

3. Problems of Captive Breeding; The animals must be able to successfully breed in captivity, have live births.

4. Disposition; If the animal is nasty or capable of killing humans and are really dangerous, that disqualifies them for domestication.

5. Tendency to Panic; Some species of large animal tend to get nervous and run, this is counter productive to domestication.

6. Social Structure; If the animal lives in groups then it tends to be more easily domesticated, rather than animals who live alone and prowl.

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