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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Halfway best
Since I teach evolutionary psychology in college, I try to keep up with "popular" expositions of human evolution--both because my (better) students will have read them and because some of them make for good teaching tools. The first ten chapters of this book rank, in my opinion, as probably the best single account of what we really do and do not know about...
Published on Sept. 4 2003 by Bob Fancher

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Bad Politics Spoils Good Science
Ugg! Mr. Diamond writes well and has great examples and experiences, but he spoils much of it by excessive political commentary. I love politics on TV. But when I read a book about science, that is what I want, SCIENCE. Instead the first chapter, and most of the final ones, are drenched in partison politics which detracts from the real science in the book. If you...
Published on Aug. 19 2000 by Richard La Fianza


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Halfway best, Sept. 4 2003
By 
Since I teach evolutionary psychology in college, I try to keep up with "popular" expositions of human evolution--both because my (better) students will have read them and because some of them make for good teaching tools. The first ten chapters of this book rank, in my opinion, as probably the best single account of what we really do and do not know about human evolution.
In these first ten chapters, Diamond gives us dispassionate surveys of dominant theories and available evidence. Here, it's not unusual for him to say something like, Here are the six dominant theories, here is the evidence that shows why four of them don't deserve serious consideation anymore in spite of their emotional or political appeal, and here are the relative scientific merits of the remainder. In an arena beset by vicious ad hominem attacks and passionate ideological presentations of unproven theories, Diamond--in these first ten chapters--offers the student more concerned with truth than ideology a lovely account.
Among the important points he makes in these first ten chapters: Our genetic propensities toward cooperation, care for no-longer-procreative elders, and (in the case of women) outliving reproductive capacity set the stage for the evolution of the human brain. Genes may be "selfish," but our genes' inclining us toward non-egoistic ways of life lie at the foundation of being human at all. This is a crucial point, consistent with the ethical views and habits of all civilizations other than those that foster "social Darwinism." That our humanity depends on the falsity of "social Darwinism" cannot be emphasized too greatly. Science supports the kind of other-oriented, community concern that all ethics, through all of human history--unlike allegedly "enlightened" egoism--codifies. (See also the wonderful anthology, "The Evolutionary Origins of Morality," LeonardD. Katz, editor.)
Beginning in chapter eleven, the book becomes progressively more speculative, more of a presentation of Diamond's own theories, some about things outside his area of professional expertise--e.g., the effects of continental differences in flora, fauna, and climate on differential developments of civilizations. Here, we lose the critical comparative attitude of the first ten chapters. If you think carefully, you finish each of these latter chapters with a lot of, "Yes, but . . . " questions. Thus, in the first ten chapters, you rightly come away with confidence that you've acquired a fair understanding of the state-of-the-art in evolutionary studies. In the latter chapters, that simply isn't so.
I agree with most of the political and ideological principles underlying Diamnod's speculations, and I appreciate that--unlike many leading "lights" in studies of human evolution--he never resorts to name calling and acting as if those who differ are nefarious fools. But I wish he'd either stopped writing after ten chapters, or made the latter chapters more like the first ten. Each of these latter chapters is intelligent and interesting, and each deserves further condieration; but Diamnond's shift in standards of assessment and style of presentation makes the second half of the book far less authoritative, and therefore makes the book as a whole something one can less enthusiastically recommend--or use in teaching.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, Jan. 25 2004
By A Customer
This is a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in how man differs and does not differ from the rest of the animal kingdom (particularly the great apes). Since the book is already over ten years old, it is a bit weak on new advances in genetics and does not seem to be up-to-date on the Clovis debate about the peopling of the Americas (new genetic data showing that the entrance was probably earlier than the assumed 12,000 years ago). However, the bulk of the book is a very mind-broadening, timeless view of homo sapiens and this species conquest of the entire planet. The history that Diamond portrays does not augur well for mankind: habitual destruction of the environment; mass extinctions of other species; increasingly limited genetic diversity in the human species; the propensity for genocide. In short, Diamond shows that man has a history of selfishly expanding its population to the detriment of the very environment upon which he depends and that this proclivity could someday spell the end of the species as our numbers continue to rise. Some sobering facts are offered here; and open minds should recognize them and heed them.
I only give the book four stars for two reasons:
1) As mentioned, the part on genetics is partially out of date and should be made current in a further edition.
2) Diamond has a number of annoying tendencies that are sometimes frustrating: I grew weary of his "Outer Space" perspectives (i.e., the paleontologist from Outer Space, the archaeologist from Outer Space, the biologist from Outer Space), as if the reader were incapable of standing back and gaining perspective on his own species without this trick. Also, he piqued my curiosity on a number of subjects that he promised to cover in detail later. When thse subjects finally came, there were often more questions than answers.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Captivating Work, May 18 2004
By 
Cevat Cokol (New York, NY, United States) - See all my reviews
I read this book just after I finished GGS and at some aspects, I liked it even more than the much celebrated GGS.
At each chapter of the Third Chimpanzee we learn a totally new subject in the Jared Diamond style: a well-thought synthesis, a simple and organized presentation. Every other twenty pages was a new adventure for me.
Obviously, this might not be the case for other readers that are more acquainted with evolution readings, and obviously I need a lot to learn before I can decide their authenticity but I found his ideas on subjects like extraterrestrial life and evolution of drug abuse very original and provoking. I also found his narration of the issues of Indo-European Languages spreading, mate selection, animal art and genocide very moving and comprehensive.
A surprise for me was that this book tells the main concept of GGS thoroughly in just two chapters. Given the occasionally criticized redundancy and large volume of GGS, I might humbly suggest a prospective reader of Diamond who has limited time to read this book instead of GGS. For sure, GGS gives a much better and extensive treatise of the concept and it is also a must read book for anybody who wants to put a perspective to human history. Third Chimpanzee also gives a perspective to human psychology and I sincerely recommend it to anybody interested in these two subjects.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, Dec 8 2002
By 
Michael Kumpf (Acworth, Georgia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I picked this up from the bookstore after reading Guns, Germs, and Steel earlier this year. I expected another book that was well written, where the author could explain the material to a novice on this subject like myself. I was not disappointed.
How did humans become human, and how did we evolve so differently so quickly from our primate relatives? Those are the questions he tries to answer in this book. Readers of GG&S will be familiar with a couple of the chapters in this book that touch on the same subject matter. However, don't let that stop you from looking at this book. Diamond looks at many aspects of humanity-both good (art, language) and bad (drug abuse, murder/genocide, destruction of environment) and tries to figure out how they developed or where they came from. I particularly enjoyed his treatment of language developement as well as his discussion of murder and genocide. We are not as different from animals as I thought regarding those topics. Plus, he explains everything very well. I had no problems following his logic or explanations. I would recommend this book for all to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely FASCINATING!!!, Oct. 20 2003
Jared Diamond has to be one of my favorite authors. I could hardly put this book down! After reading "Guns, Germs and Steel," and "Why is Sex Fun?", "The Third Chimpanzee" has also proven to be yet another brilliant work by the author. He asks questions and looks at angles that are fascinating and provide almost endless food-for-thought. He approaches his subjects with open-mindedness and a true desire to uncover the truth.
Human evolution and early human history is a mysterious subject with much of the pieces missing, simply because of how long ago it happened and the lifestyle of those early humans. Yet it is such an important subject-- to understand WHAT homo sapiens really are, how we fit in with the other members of our family tree, how we got to be the way we are. Mr. Diamond applies his experience with hunter-gatherer New Guinian peoples to try to fill in these gaping holes. For thousands of years, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, yet today it is a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly rare. He also provides insight into our physical evolution, sexual and reproductive evolution, the evolution of language and communication, and how our closest current relatives --the chimps and gorillas-- differ from and are similar to us. He also discusses what he terms "our Great Leap Forward"-- the point were we stopped being pre-human and started being (mentally and behaviorly) modern.
If you are at all interested in early human history and the "whys" and "hows" of many of our "human" characteristics, then this book is for you. You'll find Mr. Diamond's open, honest approach refreshing and easy to follow. Excellent book on understanding what it means to be human, and how we got that way.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Dry Run for "Guns, Germs, and Steel", July 18 2003
By 
If you've read Diamond's two most recent books -- "Why is Sex Fun?" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" -- very little in this book will be new to you. "The Third Chimpanzee" covers a wider range of topics and is more overtly political than those two, but much of the same territory is examined.
In this book, which was his first for a general audience, Diamond examines the history of man's evolution, seeking to establish patterns that might explain man's future. He worries that man has a self-destructive tendency -- as typified by genocide, the threat of atomic warfare, and the loss of biodiversity -- that could lead to man's own self-destruction. While Diamond occasionally tries to strike an optimistic note, the book has a dark pessimism throughout it.
One of the book's only failings is that its several aims are sometimes at cross purposes. Diamond begins "The Third Chimpanzee" by trying to level man down to the animals. He does this by explaining how closely connected man is genetically to his closest living cousins, the chimpanzees (thus, the name of this book). On this basis, he then argues that a rethinking in our concept of human rights is in order.
Later in the book, however, when Diamond is exhorting his fellow homo sapiens to save the planet, he chooses to focus on man's unique traits, both destructive and redeeming. Man is capable of genocide, certain types of which, Diamond argues, are unique to man. On the other hand, man is also capable of learning from the history of his species, something which is also unique to man. Diamond's switch from presenting man as just another chimpanzee to presenting man as both world destroyer and potential world savior is a bit jarring, even if not necessarily contradictory.
"The Third Chimpanzee" is an easy and enjoyable read, but it fails to reach the intellectual heights of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" -- a superior book in every way. Clearly, this was a dry run for Diamond, and he would later improve his presentation by dropping most of the overt politics and pessimism, while slightly narrowing his focus. The result was a great book; this is merely a good one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and controversial, May 6 2003
By A Customer
Homo sapiens are, as the title states, the Third Chimpanzee. Diamond's theme in this book is that humans are just one species among many; we make up just one small part of a large whole, which is the natural world. Through a historical context, Diamond creates a pallet with facts about the biology and evolution of humans. This book is written with power; presenting answers to the controversial questions of why humans, being the third species of ape, were able to conquer and dominate the earth while developing the high possibility of ending our short lived reign in disaster.
Diamond tells the story of the Third Chimpanzee in five parts. Part one methodologically recounts the most recent anthropological and genetic evidence of how humans possess a significantly close relationship with apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Interestingly put forward are the implications that humans and chimpanzees diverged from the ancestral line after gorillas did. Humans are similar in 98.4 percent of their DNA to chimpanzees; according to the evidence, the common chimpanzees are human's closest primate relative as opposed to the original thought of gorillas being more closely related to humans.
Part two handles the changes that occurred in the human life pattern from the expansive length of time from several million years ago to ten thousand years ago. The differences between chimpanzees and humans in life cycles, mate selection, sexuality, and the possibility in the ways in which these various factors could have effected the evolution of humans, are all concentrated on in this part of the book. Diamond uses the right amount of technical detail to place the reader on a platform of understanding that is needed to grasp the theories of human evolution and future that are proposed in this book.
Part Three of the book discusses the many cultural traits of humans and how we believe that those specific cultural traits are what detach us from other species, particularly those relatives closest to us. Spoken language, art, agriculture, and tool-based technology are a few examples of the "cultural hallmarks" Diamond instills as being distinguishing cultural traits that we are proud of, as opposed to the many others introduced in this book as being detrimental to the survival of the human race. These ugly cultural traits are chemical abuse, mass exterminations of numerous other species, the negative attributes of agriculture, genocide, among others.
The destructive qualities that humans posses, such as environmental degradation and warfare are told of in Part Five. To bring the book to a close the epilogue summarizes the story of the third chimpanzee, telling of what the future may bring with melancholic and hopeful views alike.
In the first section of the book, Diamond provides plenty of background information, facts, findings and evidence for his assertions. Many interesting stories that he told capture and entice the reader. He discussed the different theories of human skin color in reference to location. The most popular of the theories being that differences in skin color are adaptive. This means that the shade (light/dark) of skin color benefits the person according to the region; white skins (supposedly) more effectively produce vitamin D aiding in the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis, where as darker skins induce sunlight that in turn reduces the chances of developing skin cancer. Many more theories exist, yet the one that Diamond lays on the table for pondering is Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Darwin's sexual selection theory attributes the differences in skin color to our ancestor's matting according to their preferences. Diamonds entire discussion on skin color is vividly illustrated thru a conversation that he had had with a few New Guinea men about female attractiveness and how they found white women to be repulsive.
Agriculture is a main theme throughout the entire book. Diamond tends to consider the invention of agriculture as being a great catastrophe. It has its benefits tied with its destructive attributes. Diamond makes claims to agriculture as being the exact opposite of what many people grow up believing it to be; the cause of class differences, monstrous wars, and the deterioration of the length and quality of life.
The second half of the book is filled more with Diamond's own speculation about the evolution of human behaviors, missing in this section is the evidence, facts and various theories that he used in his writing at the beginning. For an example of the lightly supported claims, Diamond presents the reader with his argument that smoking is a human behavior that is linked to sexual selection. He goes on to explain that potential mates notice that the smoker is able to ingest the toxins and not have any apparent negative affects, thus making the smoker more sexually attractive (fitter and stronger). Diamond went wrong here by not providing any allowances for human tendencies toward trends in social behavior and addictiveness of tobacco.
Diamond addresses questions about human development that are fascinating and controversial; from DNA drift, paleolinguistics, to the settlement of the Americas. There is some notice to Diamond's position and inflexibility on certain topics, of which are lacking supportive technical details. In all, even with its weaknesses, this well-written, interesting book explores human evolution and our relationship to our closest living primate.
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4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and controversial, May 6 2003
By A Customer
Homo sapiens are, as the title states, the Third Chimpanzee. Diamond's theme in this book is that humans are just one species among many; we make up just one small part of a large whole, which is the natural world. Through a historical context, Diamond creates a pallet with facts about the biology and evolution of humans. This book is written with power; presenting answers to the controversial questions of why humans, being the third species of ape, were able to conquer and dominate the earth while developing the high possibility of ending our short lived reign in disaster.
Diamond tells the story of the Third Chimpanzee in five parts. Part one methodologically recounts the most recent anthropological and genetic evidence of how humans possess a significantly close relationship with apes, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Interestingly put forward are the implications that humans and chimpanzees diverged from the ancestral line after gorillas did. Humans are similar in 98.4 percent of their DNA to chimpanzees; according to the evidence, the common chimpanzees are human's closest primate relative as opposed to the original thought of gorillas being more closely related to humans.
Part two handles the changes that occurred in the human life pattern from the expansive length of time from several million years ago to ten thousand years ago. The differences between chimpanzees and humans in life cycles, mate selection, sexuality, and the possibility in the ways in which these various factors could have effected the evolution of humans, are all concentrated on in this part of the book. Diamond uses the right amount of technical detail to place the reader on a platform of understanding that is needed to grasp the theories of human evolution and future that are proposed in this book.
Part Three of the book discusses the many cultural traits of humans and how we believe that those specific cultural traits are what detach us from other species, particularly those relatives closest to us. Spoken language, art, agriculture, and tool-based technology are a few examples of the "cultural hallmarks" Diamond instills as being distinguishing cultural traits that we are proud of, as opposed to the many others introduced in this book as being detrimental to the survival of the human race. These ugly cultural traits are chemical abuse, mass exterminations of numerous other species, the negative attributes of agriculture, genocide, among others.
The destructive qualities that humans posses, such as environmental degradation and warfare are told of in Part Five. To bring the book to a close the epilogue summarizes the story of the third chimpanzee, telling of what the future may bring with melancholic and hopeful views alike.
In the first section of the book, Diamond provides plenty of background information, facts, findings and evidence for his assertions. Many interesting stories that he told capture and entice the reader. He discussed the different theories of human skin color in reference to location. The most popular of the theories being that differences in skin color are adaptive. This means that the shade (light/dark) of skin color benefits the person according to the region; white skins (supposedly) more effectively produce vitamin D aiding in the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis, where as darker skins induce sunlight that in turn reduces the chances of developing skin cancer. Many more theories exist, yet the one that Diamond lays on the table for pondering is Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Darwin's sexual selection theory attributes the differences in skin color to our ancestor's matting according to their preferences. Diamonds entire discussion on skin color is vividly illustrated thru a conversation that he had had with a few New Guinea men about female attractiveness and how they found white women to be repulsive.
Agriculture is a main theme throughout the entire book. Diamond tends to consider the invention of agriculture as being a great catastrophe. It has its benefits tied with its destructive attributes. Diamond makes claims to agriculture as being the exact opposite of what many people grow up believing it to be; the cause of class differences, monstrous wars, and the deterioration of the length and quality of life.
The second half of the book is filled more with Diamond's own speculation about the evolution of human behaviors, missing in this section is the evidence, facts and various theories that he used in his writing at the beginning. For an example of the lightly supported claims, Diamond presents the reader with his argument that smoking is a human behavior that is linked to sexual selection. He goes on to explain that potential mates notice that the smoker is able to ingest the toxins and not have any apparent negative affects, thus making the smoker more sexually attractive (fitter and stronger). Diamond went wrong here by not providing any allowances for human tendencies toward trends in social behavior and addictiveness of tobacco.
Diamond addresses questions about human development that are fascinating and controversial; from DNA drift, paleolinguistics, to the settlement of the Americas. There is some notice to Diamond's position and inflexibility on certain topics, of which are lacking supportive technical details. In all, even with its weaknesses, this well-written, interesting book explores human evolution and our relationship to our closest living primate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exposing the Dark Side of Human Beings and Civilization, April 23 2003
By 
G. Joy Robins "Joy Robins" (Staten Island,, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Having just read Guns Germs and Steel, I couldn't wait to read the "prequel" The Third Chimpanzee. Jared Diamond has illuminated our origins and our history with a lightening bolt of insight. He writes so readably that he can draw us through even our propensity for genocide without losing us. He adds two and two so carefully and persuasively that we are forced to accept his conclusions as inevitable. They have the brilliant simplicity of the truth, as unpleasant as that may be. Humans have been producing art and moving toward civilization since the "great leap forward" that propelled us beyond our chimp cousins. We have been using our tools and talents against the environment and each other for just as long. Monuments and Massacres are us. As I have long said, we are a bad lot. Diamond manages to remain optomistic none-the-less. Perhaps the communication revolution will enable us to see our "enemies" as human and we will stop short of wiping them out. Maybe we will finally understand that if we destroy the environment we also destroy ourselves. I too am an optomist, but reading the current headlines, I am wondering if perhaps Diamond was more right about us than he knew.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great piece of work, Feb. 11 2003
By 
Neel Aroon "jaroon7648" (Lexington, KY United States) - See all my reviews
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Having read Guns Germs and Steel a few monthos ago, i thought i would be ineteresting to pick up a copy of the Third Chimpanzee which is considered to be a prequel to Guns Germs and Steel. Overall, it looks at over all human behaviours and history helping to explain humanity at the present. Diamond does an excellent job describing human evolution out of Africa into other parts of the world and the different species of primates that played a role in this process. He goes further into describing how human behaviours such as sexuality, how humans pick partners and manage sexual relations. He also looks at things that make humans distincly human such as language and art. He compares these accomplishments to animals and questions the benefits of some such as agriculture and condemns others such as drug/alcohal use. He further goes into detail about the conquest of certain peoples by other people and how humans cultures have hurt their own progres making species extinct and making certain great civilization decline over time.
Overall, this is a good complement to Guns Germs and Stee.
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