Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of Collapse
and Guns, Germs and Steel
surveys the history of human societies to answer the question: What can we learn from traditional societies that can make the world a better place for all of us?
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. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.
“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book. In The World Until Yesterday, he pushes us to reconsider the contours of human society and the forces that have shaped human culture….Powerful and captivating, Diamond's lucid insights challenge our ideas about human nature and culture, and will likely provoke heated conversations about the future of our society.” Book Page
“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
“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
“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
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, and Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.