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on 8 April 2013
Not as good as Guns, Germs & Steel but a thought-provoking read nevertheless.
Very disappointed with Survival International for criticising Jared so publicly - they obviously have an agenda to protect traditional people above all else - as the criticisms are quite frankly absurd when applied to Mr Diamond.
The idea that he would intentionally cause harm to the peoples that he loves so much is just ridiculous.
Just as the idea that you cannot in any way criticise traditional peoples is also nonsense.

Very interesting lessons to be learnt by us WEIRD people, particularly on child-rearing and legal retribution.
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on 28 February 2013
I know nothing about anthropology...I speak as a interested but casual reader, Diamonds target audience.

This book is accessible, easy to understand. It has a kind of self-help vibe to it, which you may or may not like. It personally made me think. Jared seems to be always empathetic to the tribes in question, even when talking about infancide, he does not brand it as bad, he is not judgemental - and frankly, who in their right mind could be? We don't practice it in our developed country simply because of the division of labour ie. population size and technology allows us to look after disabled and sick people.

The book doesn't allow itself the scope to look at what current debates in the field are, which would be interesting to know. The purpose is to draw some more community-centred solutions to problems we face in developed nation-societies.

His work has not gone without criticism from Corry[search: Savaging Primitives: Why Jared Diamond's `The World Until Yesterday' Is Completely Wrong]

In short - I think the critic makes valid points. He argues that Diamond overlooks state oppression of tribes people, and cites widely discredited authors, one of which has apparently denied a genocide. Corry's critique of how to measure deaths in a war makes a mockery of Jared's methodology. Certainly Jared does have an ideology that the 'sate society' is the one tribe, and certainly that it is superior to a traditional society.

The conclusion of the critique paints Diamond as a neo-colonial brute - but I simply can't read that into the book. I do think that there are some valid questions to answer for...there is certainly some evidence that puts a question mark over Diamond, but I would like to know how he answers the questions before making my judgement. Corry seems defensive to a point of paranoia, which kind of puts me off him, but once that is recognised and put to the side, his critique is mostly valid.

In the end I say 'mostly' because 'The world until yesterday' is an empathetic book towards the tribes people, there certainly does not seem to be a conquestial manifesto - although he does support *some* manifestation of state order - he iterates that the tribes way is actually better. Ultimately for me, if TWUY disappointing, then it is disappointing only because ACTUALLY I did not learn enough about tribes - half the book is telling us about what we need to change in our society.

I would recommend this book to anyone, as long as they read the critical review too!
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on 31 July 2014
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. There are loads of interesting case studies to support Diamond`s points, many taken from his own experiences while living with different cultures around the world. The book doesn`t need to be read front to back, but you can pick and choose chapters depending on your interests e.g. chapter on war, chapter on child rearing. The book helps you to remember that humans are simply a species of animal which has adapted in different ways to varied environments globally. And as such, we can learn a lot by studying and understanding different human cultures and societies.
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on 2 April 2013
Clearly Prof Diamond has a real interest in learning from tribal societies and most of his conclusions make sense. Having read the adversarial comments from Survival International before I started I wondered if he really was saying something that was "dangerous". I came to the conclusion that these comments are emotive bordering on the irrational and wondered if they had actually bothered to read the book.

I can thoroughly recommend it as he clearly cares and has given much thought to his subject. Indeed if we applied some of the lessons that he draws out in his book, the world of today would probably be more pleasant and attractive than a lot of us find it.
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on 2 January 2014
The author try to find out the reasons why the western and chinese-japanese civilizations have been successful whereas African or Australian aborigines were still hunters in the 20th century. He points out environmental factors that seem obvious, but that you would not have thought to research. The amount of data that he seem to have gathered is really surprising - going from the crops that were grown some thousand years back in several continents to the existence of animals that could be domesticated - and the conclusions that he draws are truly clever and original.
Really worth some hours of reading.
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on 30 April 2014
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.
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on 9 January 2014
Jared Diamond is a brilliant scientist and writer, but I approached this book with some caution, not being someone who thought that I had a lot to learn from primitive societies. I feared a slightly sentimental approach, but Diamond is too smart to do this to do us. This book is as much about our society as it is about primitive ones, and the insights into issues such as religion were really fascinating. It was quite a marathon read, but I emerged from it having adjusted the way I think about the world - few books can do this.
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on 7 January 2013
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

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.
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on 12 July 2013
I loved Guns Germs & Sperm, I liked the Third Chimpanzee but was left underwhelmed by that one.
An easy, quick, read, but not as interesting as it should have been, considering the author's capacity and the quality of the subject.

I can't help thinking there's been a bit of laziness and self-satisfaction here. Worth reading, but not keeping on the shelves, wait for the paperback.
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on 16 June 2013
Informed, considered, balanced and though provoking. Like all of Mr. diamond's books, he provides ponderings on life that are essential but so few of us have time to do. For me this makes him an essential author to read as his topics are of such a profound significance over the coming years, and not distant ones, that we all need to be informed by the thinking his writing provokes.
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