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The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? [Hardcover]

Jared Diamond
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 31 2012
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 yesterday - in evolutionary time—when 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 years—a past that has mostly vanished—and 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 societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but 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. A characteristically provocative, enlightening, and entertaining book, The World Until Yesterday will be essential and delightful reading.

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The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? + The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal + Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition
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“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

“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

“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

“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.

“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

“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
(Praise for The World Until Yesterday)

About the Author

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review Jan. 7 2013
By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

The main argument: The onset of agriculture and farming some 11,000 years ago (termed the Neolithic Revolution), is arguably the most significant turning point in the history of our species. Agriculture induced a major population explosion, which then led to urbanization; labor specialization; social stratification; and formalized governance—thus ultimately bringing us to civilization as we know it today. Prior to the Neolithic Revolution—and extending back time out of mind—human beings lived in a far different way. Specifically, our ancestors lived in small, largely egalitarian tribes of no more than 50 to 100 individuals, and hunted and foraged for their food.

The transition from our traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle, to early farming (and herding), to civilization as we know it now (which, on an evolutionary time-scale, occurred but yesterday) has certainly brought with it some very impressive benefits. Indeed, many of us today enjoy comforts and opportunities the likes of which our more traditional ancestors would never have dreamed of. However, it cannot be said that the transition from traditional to modern has left us without any difficulties. Indeed, some would go so far as to say that the problems that civilization has introduced outweigh the benefits that it has brought; and even the most unromantic among us are likely to agree that our experiment in civilization has not been an unmitigated success.

This then brings us to the problem of solving the difficulties that civilization has left us with.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond June 17 2013
Format:Hardcover
This reviewer found the book a laborious and stenuous 494-page read. The pulitzer prize-winning author Jared Diamond---a professor of geograpgy at UCLA---has written four previous books, and two read by this reviewer: "Guns,Germs, and Steel" ; and "Collapse". Both were much easier to read than "The World Until Yesterday".
The focus of the work is---as the books sub-title connotes---how the West can learn from traditional societies and our tribal neighbours. Diamond carefully and craftily contrasts Western culture with the modern lives of New Guineans with their ancestors. Diamond invites readers to learn from ancient traditional tribal societies and their approaches to food consumption, child rearing, the treatment of seniors, managing conflicts, and poverty and health care. In a menacing way, Diamond rails against the West, and more specifically the United States, for its self-destructive dietary behaviours. He further takes the romantic management approach to tribalism and suggests Westerners do all they can to enhance the lives of children by what Diamond calls "allo-perenting".
Diamond's prescription for resolving and managing differences and relationships is to expand and enhance government restorative justice programs and policies. Diamond argues that the West must find more innovative and creative ways of "managing" seniors, devise new living conditions for seniors, and support better lives and social relationships in general. Diamond also "highlights" useful lessons that the West can learn from more traditional societies so that life can be extended, made healthier, and focus on the iradication of poverty.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, but not without flaws Jan. 19 2013
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Diamond's newest book proposes that we examine how humans lived in our evolutionary past to better understand how and why we live today and whether that fits with our evolved predispositions. That's not a new proposition. Evolutionary psychology has been gathering steam for a couple of decades now, with plenty of great books out there about how evolution has shaped our behaviors. Diamond's book is different in that it proposes to focus largely on cultural institutions or beliefs such as justice, trade, parenting, and religion.

The good parts of the book that I fully agree is that Diamond argues we are products of our evolutionary past and understanding that is vital to optimizing our current cultural and personal development. He offers many fascinating examples of how our current and past cultures are both similar and different. Much of his argument revolves around the simple fact that we lived in much tighter and less inter-bound groups than we do now. This means that strangers are a relatively new phenomenon, as are some aspects of our good behavior (e.g., we rarely fight with strangers). But we also have some aspects to learn from past cultures, such as having a village raise a child rather than isolated parents, or include mediation and victim compensation as larger part of our criminal and civil justice systems. Diamond's reviews of religion are more mixed, but they do point out its near-universality and common role of uniting many communities. Overall, Diamond believes it is crucial for us not to emulate all aspects of traditional societies, but to at least know of them, and understand how they can or can't apply to our modern societies. Diamond encourages us to not forget these fading lessons as traditional societies continue to fade away (including their languages).
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If we would have known
Jared Diamond who spent his long life exploring the New Guinea people living in an isolated immense island put on the paper all the questions we never dared to dig and analyse. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jean-pierre Petits
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look at our world
When I first read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel I was delighted to discover his original, yet accessible, take on the historical processes which formed much of our... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Gabriel Boutros
5.0 out of 5 stars Realism vs. Sentimentality
Haven't finished reading the book yet, but it is an excellent read and totally to the point of my studies into the fundamental commonalities in human beings underpinning our... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Delphine du Toit
4.0 out of 5 stars A most thought provoking book
What I drew from this book was the need for assessment and balance in how we live. Sure we have progressed materially, in safety and in comfort but we have forgotten how to eat,... Read more
Published 10 months ago by bookweasel
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Guns Germs and Steel...
I did enjoy reading this book but it was too soft. Simply expected a little more from Diamond.

Lucie Lacroix
Published 14 months ago by Lucie Lacroix
4.0 out of 5 stars one of my favourite authors does it again
Jared Diamond not only writes well but has a lot of insight in the world of human geography. He does a good job of keeping the reader engaged and interested in a subject that... Read more
Published 18 months ago by David Keay
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Jared Diamond masterpiece
A worthy follow up to both Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse. Diamond is a gifted man, researcher, and scientist,
Published 19 months ago by Mr. Brian Clark
3.0 out of 5 stars More Value for Describing Traditional Society than for Prescribing...
"But you must continue in the things which you have learned ...." -- 2 Timothy 3:14 (NKJV)

I enjoyed reading The World Until Yesterday because it describes practices in... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars The World until Yesterday
Book brand new. Came in great shape. Will order again when there is something I want and can't find in the book stores
Published 20 months ago by Beverly
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