Anna Karenina principle

Anna Karenina Principle

Anna Karenina principle

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The Anna Karenina principle was popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel to describe an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a number of factors dooms it to failure. Consequently, a successful endeavor (subject to this principle) is one in which every last one of the possible deficiencies has been avoided.

The name of the principle derives from Leo Tolstoy's book Anna Karenina, which begins:

<blockquote>Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.</blockquote>

Diamond uses this principle to illustrate why so few wild animals have been successfully domesticated throughout history, as a deficiency in any one of a great number of factors can render a species undomesticable. Therefore all successfully domesticated species are not so because of a particular positive trait, but because of a lack of any number of possible negative traits.

From chapter 9 of Guns, Germs and Steel, six groups of reasons for failed domestication of animals are:

  • Diet - To be a candidate for domestication, a species must be easy to feed. Finicky eaters make poor candidates. Non-finicky omnivores make best candidates.
  • Growth Rate - The animal must grow fast enough to be economically feasible. An elephant farmer, for example, would wait perhaps 12 years for his herd to reach adult size.
  • Problems of Captive Breeding - The species must breed well in captivity. Species having mating rituals prohibiting breeding in a farm-like......
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