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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have found a witch, may we burn him?, 17 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (Paperback)
Jared Diamond is a 75 year old American academic who confesses to having trouble with TV remote controls and enjoyed many years studying birds in New Guinea. He writes about evolutionary and historical changes from a multidisciplinary angle.I've found his previous books intriguing, although more recent works have been slightly drier to my taste. This book returns to a more chatty open style found in his earlier works, but to me lacks new content. This is mainly because it is a summary of anthropological literature and I've got this degree thing in Prehistory and Archaeology (bit dusty, but most of the groups mentioned: the Nuer, Yanomami, Inuit, !Kung are old friends).

For some reason, he's really upset some people. You'd think this was a soldier's autobiography entitled "my struggle". Reading this fairly mild mannered book, which considers the good and the bad points of "Westernised" society versus the good and bad points of (uh oh, how to categorise without incurring the ire of guily Whities) "traditional" societies (oops, said it, quick, duck!). Diamond mildly concludes there's contradictory advantages to both. The only point he's really vehement about is how we should all cut down on salt, fat and sugar content. Ta Jared for finally getting into my head what blood pressure measurments mean, but otherwise it was just an imiable read for me hence 4 stars.

So wassup? Technically Diamond's statement that us as anatomically modern humans have been gatherer-hunters for most of our existence is correct (Palaeolithic...old stone age will do as a term). After the end of the last glacial maximum, when European latitudes got warmer and the soggy Sahara got drier (and the same for the Southern hemisphere) our species started to adopt a more settled lifestyle in various geographical locations associated with domestication of animals and plants ( stone age). This wasn't an immediate or total adaptation, and rather depended on available species and their adaptation to climatic variations (Sweden is way later in the wheat-barley domestication than the original domestication in Southern Turkey/ Mesopotamia) There are other starch crop based adaptations worldwide. Gatherer-Hunting still existed but as a total lifestyle would have become increasingly marginalised. Farmers are stroppy territorial folk. However both pre and post farming cultures are seen as egalitarian. Relatively late on in human history (Bronze Age and following) it's envisaged that Some people get richer at the expense of the majority (they have metal rich spetacular burials in exclusive tombs) and this indicates early state formation, which eventually became the joyous economically wobbly city dwelling nations like the one I reside in.

Strangely Diamond is criticised for
1. Using Anthropology studies to extrapolate Archaeological behaviour ( umm, ok so that's the reason for my degree stuffed). "Archaeology is Anthropology or it is nothing" Wiley and Philllips 1958. Well, no you shouldn't lift a contemporary group wholemeal into the past, but as similar groups face the same survival challenges as our (and their) ancestors there will be similarites in behaviour. And it's pretty much all that poor little academics have to go on, especially as most major archeological sites were effectively trashed by past excavators on the hunt for stiffs and goodies. And then they failed to publish.
2. Using data from agricultural societies such as New Guinea.......well he states his pivotal moment is social stratification and state formation, not the adoption of farming.

3. Diamond is criticised for not labelling tribal peoples as "primitive savages" himself, but somehow inciting reviews in different popular newspapers to use the words "primitive" and "savage" (not together in the same article or even language, though). Honestly .....the main cited critic really says this.

What he does that has me going oops is the uncritical citing of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. Described to us students as a bit of a bruiser, Chagnon's study of the Yanomami, "the Fierce People", has attracted criticism from other anthropologists and the Yanomami themselves as overstressing the role of violence in their culture. This isn't exactly news, it was published in 1968.

"The Satanic verses" was a dull book, this isn't. I don't find it's message particularly earth shattering. I still like Diamond. My respect for Survival International has taken a big dive.

And yes this was the shortened version of humanity, so no point in getting stroppy with me...especially as I'm not hiding my ID. Diamond just wants you to have a healthy happy long life, poor soul.
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