The World Until Yesterday
What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
By Jared Diamond
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143124405, 512pp.)
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
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The bestselling author of Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel surveys the history of human societies to answer the question: What can we learn from traditional societies that can make the world a better place for all of us?
Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterdayin evolutionary timewhen everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of yearsa past that has mostly vanishedand considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.
This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societiesafter all, we are shocked by some of their practicesbut he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.
Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at UCLA. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by The Rockefeller University. His previous books include Why Is Sex Fun?, The Third Chimpanzee, Collapse, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
In his new book, The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond argues that traditional societies have much to teach the modern world about different ways to eat and stay fit, and how to raise children and resolve conflicts. More at NPR.org
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“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book. In The World Until Yesterday, he pushes us to reconsider the contours of human society and the forces that have shaped human culture […] Powerful and captivating, Diamond’s lucid insights challenge our ideas about human nature and culture, and will likely provoke heated conversations about the future of our society.”
“Challenging and smart…By focusing his infectious intellect and incredible experience on nine broad areas -- peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health -- and sifting through thousands of years of customs across 39 traditional societies, Diamond shows us many features of the past that we would be wise to adopt.”
--Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from – and perhaps offer to – our more traditional kin.”
--Christian Science Monitor
“Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition and evolutionary biology. Diamond is a Renaissance man, a serious scholar and an audacious generalist, with a gift for synthesizing data and theories.”
--The Chicago Tribune
“As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.”
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues[…]is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience[…]A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.”--Kirkus, Starred Review
“In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”—Booklist
“Lyrical and harrowing, this survey of traditional societies reveals the surprising truth that modern life is a mere snippet in the long narrative of human endeavor[…]This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”—Publishers Weekly
“Jared Diamond has done it again. Surveying a great range of anthropological literature and integrating it with vivid accounts of a lifetime of visits—sometimes harrowing, more often exhilarating—to highland New Guinea, he holds up a needed mirror to our culture and civilization. The reflection is not always flattering, but it is always worth looking at with an honest, intelligent eye. Diamond does that and more.”
--Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing: and The Evolution of Childhood
“This is the most personal of Diamond's books, a natural follow-up to his brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond has very extensive and long-term field experience with New Guineans, and stories of these admirable people enrich his overview of how all human beings acted until very recently. Not only are his accounts fascinating, they will ring true to all who have experience with hunter-gatherer cultures. And they carry many lessons for modern societies as well on everything from child-rearing to general health. The World Until Yesterday is a triumph.”
--Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures
“The World Until Yesterday is another eye-opening and completely enchanting book by one of our major intellectual forces, as a writer, a thinker, a scientist, a human being. It's a rare treasure, both as an illuminating personal memoir and an engrossing look into the heart of traditional societies and the timely lessons they can offer us. Its unique spell is irresistible.”
--Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife
“An incredible insightful journey into the knowledge and experiences of peoples in traditional societies. Diamond’s literary adventure reflects on the problems of today in light of his exhaustive literature review and 40 plus years of living with rural New Guinean peoples.”
--Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers (with Michael Lamb)
“In the 19th century Charles Darwin's trilogy—On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals changed forever our understanding of our nature and our history. A century from now scholars will make a similar assessment of Jared Diamond's trilogy: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and now The World Until Yesterday, his magnificent concluding opus on not only our nature and our history, but our destiny as a species. Jared Diamond is the Charles Darwin of our generation, and The World Until Yesterday is an epoch-changing work that offers us hope through real-life solutions to our most pressing problems.”
--Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters