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The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?by Jared Diamond
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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. 'The hunter-gatherer lifestyle,' the author reminds us, 'worked at least tolerably well for the nearly 100,000-year history of behaviorally modern humans.' Renowned for crafting startling theories across vast swaths of time and territory, Pulitzer Prize–winner Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) eschews the grand canvas to offer an empathetic portrait of human survival and adaptability. Drawing examples from Africa, Japan, and the Americas, Diamond details the astonishing diversity of human ideas about religion, warfare, child-rearing, eldercare, and dispute resolution. Most of the data comes from New Guinea, which is home to some of the last primeval peoples on Earth. The author has been conducting fieldwork on the Pacific island for half a century and writes about its cultures and ecology with palpable affection. This book presents a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons. Neither the first world nor tribal cultures possesses a monopoly on virtue. The cruelty of such traditional practices as infanticide and revenge killings is offset by the ennui and atomization of modern life. A world without Internet, television, and books, without lawyers, heart attacks, or cancer — for better and worse this was the world until 'yesterday.' 16 pages of 4-color insert. Agent: John Brockman." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Among Dr. Diamond's 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 Rockefeller University. He has published more than two hundred articles and his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
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