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Great idea for a book. First part is much better than the latter part
on 22 April 2014
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.