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

Jared Diamond
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Sep 2013
Over the past 500 years, the West achieved global dominance, but do Westerners necessarily have better ideas about how to raise children, care for the elderly, or simply live well? In this epic journey into our past, Jared Diamond reveals that traditional societies around the world offer an extraordinary window into how our ancestors lived for the majority of human history - until virtually yesterday, in evolutionary terms. Drawing on decades of his own fieldwork, Diamond explores how tribal people approach essential human problems, from health and diet to conflict resolution and language, and discovers they have much to teach us.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 Sep 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141024488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141024486
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jared Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Until recently he was Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the widely acclaimed Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, which also is the winner of Britain's 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize.

Product Description


A fascinating survey of a rapidly fading world (Economist)

Jared Diamond is one of the few people who have changed the way we see human nature and our history (Independent (BOOK OF THE WEEK))

Fascinating... a clear-eyed examination of life in traditional societies (Sunday Telegraph (BOOK OF THE WEEK))

Moving, well-told and fascinating.... The wide scope of the book means that almost everyone will find something of interest (Financial Times)

In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond cements his position as the most considered, courageous and sensitive teller of the human story writing today.... Diamond offers inimitable insight into our cultural history through the study of tribal communities, and an entertaining account of the human struggle.... Essential reading for anyone interested in the genesis of modern life (Independent on Sunday)

Fascinating... thought-provoking... A broad sweep through all humanity (Daily Telegraph (FIVE STARS))

The world has been waiting for this book (Times Higher Education)

One of the most interesting and arresting writers of our age.... The vast scope of his analysis, coupled with a lifetime's worth of personal insights, makes it fiercely persuasive (The Mail on Sunday)

Diamond's latest foray into a field that he has virtually made his own will be eagerly awaited by a global army of loyal readers (Observer)

A warm and reflective study... [Diamond] is a master of at least nine academic disciplines, from anthropology to ornithology, and the subject of his books is never less than everything (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New world outlook 12 Mar 2013
By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER
We humans can often be totally blind to the obvious things around us, like human behaviour for instance. Jared Diamond is an absolute genius - in this book he helped me to `see' our own human society for the first time. It should be obvious, but I had never thought of it before - most humans who have ever lived, experienced the type of life Diamond describes here. By looking into humans in their `natural' condition, we learn so much about ourselves.

I especially loved the chapter on languages, which contained information beyond my wildest imaginings. There were many other moments of interest: how the young are treated, how the old are treated, the narrow territory ranges of many groups and the treatment of strangers.

On the other hand I found the chapters on religion and on justice to be slightly weaker, but still worthwhile (Edward Wilson is better on religion in his book `The Social Conquest of Earth').

Diamond is not overly sentimental about his subject, and he points out many features of tribal society that no one would want to copy. But there are still some aspects we could learn from, and in every respect the information here helps us understand ourselves better.

In summary, this is one of those rare books which I think will change my entire world outlook forever. Thoroughly recommended!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Diamond, who is in his mid seventies, points out that one of the skills that improves with age is the art of SYNTHESIS.

He has done just that with his latest book which sets out to apply the lessons of hunter-gatherer life to today's world. He leans heavily on his experience with the tribes of New Guinea but synthesizes it with a wide range of other sources - for example Daniel Everett's Pirahã of the Amazon Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, Richard Lee's San Bushmen Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers, Frank Marlowe's Hadza The Hadza and many others.

This is important, since the New Guinea tribes in many ways are not representative of our formative Pleistocene past. They don't live as foragers in a sparsely inhabited savanna but as gardeners/swine-herds in a crowded, wet, jungle environment.
Having said that, Diamond tackles diverse subjects such as Warfare; The Workplace; Justice, Disputes and Vendettas; Religion; Health; Multilingualism; Old People; Risk and many more.

Many of these are difficult topics for a UCLA professor to deal with honestly. He has to avoid academia from metaphorically burning him at the stake for political incorrectness. He has to avoid thought-crime!

So Diamond's prose is reminiscent of Darwin's in The Origin of Species where, almost apologetically, he says that the evidence seems to say such-and-such, but please prove me wrong!
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
i found this to be a fascinating book in which the author looks at human society and its development by comparing and contrasting modern life with smaller traditional societies of hunter gatherers, tribes and so on. Many of the descriptions of these traditional societies focus on the peoples of Papua New Guinea, which has seen a period of very rapid and significant change. In 1931 much of the population were still wearing traditional dress, and lived without the components of society as we experience it: no phones, clocks, cars, no writing, metal, money or schools. Now traditional life in Papua New Guinea has almost disappeared - western dress is ubiquitous, and mobile phones and air travel are commonplace.

This rapid change provides much evidence for how traditional societies were - many people still remember in detail, and from personal experience, how they functioned - and this provides the basis for this book, along with much information about the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Ache and Sirinoco of South America, the Andaman Islanders of the Bay of Bengal, and many other traditional societies.

The author looks at land use and property, war, trade, crime and punishment, care of the elderly, raising of children, religion, diet and its consequences, language and much else, with frequent reference to modern history and modern state societies from across the world which helps to keep the narrative interesting for the general reader, as well as being very informative. The author concludes that there are aspects of traditional societies which would improve our lives today, as well as recognising the value of much of the progress which has been made in societal development around the world

I have found this book hard to put down - it is well written, at times amusing, and always interesting. I had never read Jared Diamond's work before but I shall certainly read his other books now.

Highly recommended
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The stated premise for this book is a great one. For the great majority of the human story, people have lived as foragers living in smallish groups rather than farmers or people living in large-scale industrial societies. It therefore makes sense that we could learn a lot of interesting and useful things from people who still live a foraging lifestyle. The first half or so of the book deals with some of the features of such traditional lifestyles. Much of this part of the book is very interesting indeed, particularly topics such as the danger of violence and starvation. The sections on childcare and raising children is fascinating, particularly the amount of time that babies spend attached to their parents in slings. Mr Diamond has a tendency to drift into long anecdotes about his travels as a younger man, but there is enough interesting factual information in the first half to keep the reader's interest.

The latter part of the book is less good. In this part of the book, rather than telling the reader about traditional societies, Mr Diamond instead shares his opinions on a variety of topics. There is a tired discussion of religion where Mr Diamond provides a long and rambling discussion about why religion may have developed, and he makes the case that belief in religion is superstitious nonsense. Mr Diamond is of course entitled to his opinion, but what on earth has this to do with hunter-gatherer societies? Mr Diamond then shares his opinions on topics such a computer games, monoligualism, and the western diet. This part of the book tells us very little about traditional societies, and seems to have the goal of convincing the reader that Mr Diamond holds the politically acceptable opinions for a US liberal, rather than actually teaching us anything useful or interesting. Nobody likes to be preached to, and most particularly not by someone we have paid to inform and entertain us.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars What we can learn from traditional societies
Very interesting book. But I did not necessarily agree with all the observations. When one has a Christian point if view there are some differences
Published 27 days ago by Elsa, Upper Graig
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing read, highly recommended
Review courtesy of

We too often mistake past cultures based on flawed information and unconscious assumptions. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nicholas
3.0 out of 5 stars Some illuminating examples, but not entirely persuasive
Jared Diamond’s extensive experience of traditional tribal societies persuades him that they have much to teach us. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jeremy Bevan
4.0 out of 5 stars If you haven't read Jared Diamond before don't start here
Jared Diamond is a wonderful polymath - I think he originally trained as a zoologist and first went to New Guinea to study its birds. Read more
Published 2 months ago by David
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
I have read a number of Diamonds books and think that this is the most interesting one yet. His holistic view of human cultures and societies is refreshing and thought provoking. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Fitz
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit samey
If you have read any other of Jared Diamond's books you'll probably be disappointed as it rehashes his general themes. If you haven't then it may be worth reading.
Published 5 months ago by michael Waghorn
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible insight
Jared Diamond is such an original thinker. He seems to see correlations that we all miss but become blindingly obvious when he points them out. A great student of mankind
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars The need for the state
This is an excellent description of pre-state societies, and why most people who've experienced both do prefer the security of a society in which the state prevents private feuds... Read more
Published 7 months ago by GwydionM
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 8 months ago by Gabriel Boutros
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
This as a book that answers lots of those niggling questions that you might have had about modern society and how it compares to traditional societies that more closely reflect the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
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