In Light of Our Differences (Hardcover)

How Diversity in Nature and Culture Makes Us Human

By David Harmon

Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 9781588340665, 240pp.

Publication Date: September 17, 2002

List Price: 49.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Most scientists would agree that a sixth mass extinction is on the horizon unless radical changes are made in how Western society treats nature. At the same time, another extinction crisis is unfolding: the loss of many of the world's languages. More and more work in applied biology, anthropology, linguistics, and other related fields is now driven by the assumption that we are approaching a threshold of irreversible loss, that events during the next few decades will decide whether we cross over into a fundamentally changed and significantly diminished world. This leads to a very simple question that has not, until now, been answered satisfactorily: Why should anyone care?

David Harmon takes a unique approach to answering this essential question by drawing on insights from conservation biology, evolutionary theory, linguistics, geography, psychology, philosophy, and ethics. His interconnected discussion explores the works of Voltaire, A.O. Lovejoy, Darwin, Wittgenstein, William James, Dobzhansky, and many others to explain why everyone must be concerned about the loss of diversity. When more and more elemental differences are erased from the natural world and human societies, the field of possible experience becomes more constricted and our essential humanity becomes jeopardized.

The very reason our planet can be said to be alive is because an amazing variety of organisms, streams of human thought and behavior, and geophysical features exist that provide a congenial setting for the interworkings of nature and culture. Harmon's timely, important book elucidates how as we lose diversity, we risk losing ourselves.

About the Author

David Harmon cofounded Terralingua, an international nonprofit organization supporting the world's linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. He is also executive director of the George Wright Society, an association of researchers and resource managers advancing the scientific and heritage values of parks and other protected areas.

Praise For In Light of Our Differences: How Diversity in Nature and Culture Makes Us Human

[Harmon] has gone where no one else has gone--to the historic intellectual underpinnings of discourse about diversity, unity, and heterogeneity, and with this link in place, the rest of the book has the potential to declare this issue one of the four or five great intellectual issues of mankind. [Harmon's analysis] of patterns of biodiversity and cultural diversity have always been unsurpassed, but now he's added the missing ling--why any scholar or citizen should care about thse issues. It's a tour de force in terms of fresh insights and in terms of scholarly research. (Gary Nabhan)