The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Hardcover – Dec 31 2012
|New from||Used from|
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
“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
"Extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in [its] ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the past." — The New York Times Book Review
"Diamond's most influential gift may be his ability to write about geopolitical and environmental systems in ways that don't just educate and provoke, but entertain." — The Seattle Times
"Extremely persuasive...replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics." — The Boston Globe
"Essential reading...Collapse [shows] that resilient societies are nimble ones, capable of a long-term planning and of abandoning deeply entrenched but ultimately destructive core values and beliefs." — Nature
"There are hopeful messages in Collapse. With Diamond's help, maybe we'll learn to see our problems a little more clearly before we chop down that last palm tree." — Time
"Extraordinarily panoramic...Diamond's complex historical web of how human communities either master their environment or become victims of them...takes a lifetime of research and, in normal English, leads the reader painstakingly where the media and intellectual journals have often refused to go." — The Washington Post
"Rendering complex history and science into entertaining prose, Diamond reminds us that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it." — People (four stars)
"Taken together, Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse represent one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual in our generation. They are magnificent books...I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wrote so clearly and formed arguments with such care." — The New York Times
"Read this book. It will challenge you and make you think." — Scientific American
Praise for Collapse
A New York Times bestseller
"A magisterial effort packed with insight and written with clarity and enthusiasm. It's also the deal of the year--the equivalent of a year's college course by an engaging, brilliant professor, all for the price of a book. — BusinessWeek
About the Author
Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. 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, The World Until Yesterday, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Top Customer Reviews
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. Now, when it comes to solving our problems, it is without a doubt the spirit of our age to look ever forward for solutions—by which I mean we tend to look for new technologies and hitherto untested arrangements to help us out of our current predicaments. However, when we consider that our traditional lifestyle served us well for millennia on end, and that it was under this lifestyle wherein we underwent much of the biological and psychological evolution that lives with us to this day, we can begin to see how it may be fruitful to look back at this traditional lifestyle for possible solutions to the problems we now face. (This idea is not new; indeed, the ‘state of nature’ has traditionally been of great interest to philosophers—for it has been thought that understanding how we lived by nature may serve as a guide to help us design the most fitting political communities given our present circumstances).
Also of interest here—and deeply connected to the more practical goal mentioned above—is that investigating our traditional way of life promises to shed light on our underlying human nature in a way that is not possible when we look at ourselves through the obscuring artifice of civilization. It is these things that we stand to gain by learning about traditional societies, and it is this very project that geographer Jared Diamond takes up in his new book The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
Diamond is certainly not one to deny that civilization has brought with it many important benefits over our traditional way of life (the most important of which, according to the author, being that state governments are much more effective at ending the cycles of violence that tend to plague traditional societies). However, Diamond does contend that there are many areas wherein traditional practices represent an improvement over how we do things in the modern world, and that these practices could (and should) be incorporated into our modern way of life (both at the personal and societal level). Specifically, we could afford to learn a thing or two from traditional societies when it comes to conflict resolution (how to re-establish and mend relationships); raising children (that it really does take a whole village to raise a child); treating the elderly (that they are deserving of respect, and are still capable of contributing to the community in many important ways); approaching risk (with extensive caution); communicating (in a face to face way, and with multiple languages); and in diet and exercise (favoring natural foods, reducing salt, and sugar intake, and adopting a more active lifestyle).
In the course of his exploration of traditional societies, Diamond also delves into why and how our ancestors transitioned from traditional societies to civilizations (with a focus on such areas as social, economic and political stratification, and also religion).
Diamond has made a career out of studying the traditional societies of Papua New Guinea, and is therefore a very credible authority on the subject matter at hand. What's more, his wealth of experience has left him with a trove of interesting and illuminating anecdotes to draw from, and these are on full display here. Finally, I felt that the author always maintained a very sober and balanced view with regards to the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional and modern societies. I would have liked to have seen certain topics discussed more, and others less, but this is mere personal preference. Altogether a very good book. A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com; a podcast discussion of the book is also available.
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).
The bad part is that he mixes together farming societies with hunter-gatherers in discussing our evolutionary past. From an evolutionary perspective, agriculturalist societies such as the Yanomamo or Dani are not likely to be typical of our evolutionary past. They are not much more ancient than other ancient cultures such as the Ancient Greeks or Egyptians (nor are the Greenland Norse he occasionally cites). Thus, from an evolutionary perspective, they are likely to play only a modest role in our evolution. So for example, because they have fixed patches of food resources that provide more calories than hunting, they posses resources that can both be fought over as well as allow for the extra calories and time required to devote time for hunting. Hunter-gatherers like the !Kung or Hadza don't show as much or as formal violence. Thus Diamond's examples might not really be of traditional societies, but rather quasi-traditional societies (with my caveat that most modern-hunter gatherer societies exist in marginal areas and those don't necessarily tell us about ancient h-g's that existed in prime real estate areas). There's a few other things I'd quibble over. For example, in emphasizing the lethality of ancient warfare (it was deadly because it was potentially constant) he states the lack of a clear war leader prevented it from being more lethal through things such as volley fire. I've read accounts of the Dani (Diamond's favorite group to talk about). They have formal battles with few casualties in large part because as one (or a few) man/men moves towards the enemy group, the enemy responds with individual arrow or spear fire that is easily dodged. Whereas a simultaneous barrage would be lethal. Diamond think's it's a lack of leadership castes that prevent this. I don't. It's almost beyond imagination to think that in a truly lethal contest volley fire would not be invented. It's obvious that three people shooting at once are harder to dodge than each shooting 10 seconds apart. Instead, I agree with the theory that these contests smack of honor-bound displays of courage meant to intimidate and promote personal prestige as much, or more, than they are meant to cause casualties to the enemy (update: apparently the Yanomamo do just that- shoot arrows in volleys when they conduct raids).
But, overall, this is a fascinating read about traditional societies and what they offer to teach us about ourselves and our modern societies. The book is less likely to be revealing for experienced readers or researches in the field of evolutionary psychology or anthropology, but it still has enough stories and anecdotes to be entertaining. For people unfamiliar with these fields, it's an excellent introduction into why studying our ancient past is a vital endeavour. It's an old saying that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it, but Diamond further offers that those who study history have the chance to not just avoid mistakes, but to better our future. Combined witha call for preserving that living history as much as we can, it's not an entirely new sentiment in itself, but it is one that's always worth repeating and exploring. A solid four stars.
I love the concept of constructive paranoia... I've been employing it all my life, as a way of minimizing risks ( best way to stay out of trouble). I'm surprised to see how hard it is to teach it to my teenage son - who grew up in a WEIRD society.
It's always good to see Jared's intellect applying itself to a new problem. The last part of the book, which deals with affluence diseases, offers new arguments for a healthy lifestyle, and its conclusions were quite close to those of some of the best books in the field (see "The China Study").
Want to see more reviews on this item?
Most recent customer reviews