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on 8 August 2014
Jared Diamond is a wonderful polymath - I think he originally trained as a zoologist and first went to New Guinea to study its birds. He is now professor of geography at UCLA and his writings cover anthropology, evolutionary biology, ethics, ecology and human history. By far his best book is 'Guns, Germs and Steel', is a history of the human race for the whole of our existence; it is arguably one of the most influential non-fiction books ever written - so start with that and if you like his work keep reading. He is now seventy-five and 'The World Until Yesterday' is a reflection and distillation of much of his professional life. The theme, as expressed in the subtitle, allows him to roam from diet and the rise of diabetes, to child-rearing and violence. It's all interesting stuff and while every individual reader will be interested in different stuff, I gurantee that there is something new and interesting for every reader. It's not his best book, but it's good. Personally I hope he keeps on thinking and writing for a long time to come.
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on 11 September 2014
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

We too often mistake past cultures based on flawed information and unconscious assumptions. Jared Diamond has actually done the research, and has the breadth of knowledge to make interesting, provocative, and informative assertions on the nature of humanity and human society.

As a result, The World Until Yesterday is a great book. Jared Diamond is an absolute master of his field, as readers of his other books can attest, and his breadth of examples and insights is exhaustive. In past books though, he has tended to take a single thesis, and argue for it based on case studies. Here, Diamond examines 9 broad themes, discussing how we treat them in the modern world, and how they were treated then. In some ways, we are clearly better off: in other ways we are perhaps not. Those nine themes are dividing space, peace/dispute resolution, war, raising children, treatment of elderly, danger response, religion, language, and diet/lifestyle.

Perhaps the most fundamental takeaway is that there are many possible ways of organizing a society, and that the narrow field of possibilities we experience for ourselves is just that: narrow. Some of these alternatives are probably undesirable from the modern standpoint: among the Kaulong people, when a man died, his brothers would strangle his widow, or in their absence, one of her sons. If they failed to do so fast enough, the widow would mock and humiliate them in order to pressure them to fulfill their obligation. Others, though, have a definite appeal, as with care for children and elderly, or our diets.

Exactly what we should learn from traditional societies is up for debate, and Diamond does not attempt to reach a consensus. His point is more profound: that we should at the very least think about other possible ways of organizing our societies, and that traditional cultures provide a way to see other possibilities in action. As they shrink and disappear, we lose a cultural laboratory of untold richness.

If you’re interested in how human society works (and if you ask me, you should be), then you should read this book, no questions asked.
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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 8 March 2014
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 and tribal warfare. Not liked by many reviewers for just that reason: secure under the protection of a strong state, they notice just how it misbehaves. This book gives a sensible account of what the alternatives were.
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on 18 December 2016
No chapters or index in the Kindle version. I'm a big fan of JD but the Kindle book isn't worth the money, as a book of this kind should always have a list of contents. I wish I'd got the paperback now.
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on 10 April 2017
Anyone interested in human history will find this a good read. However I despise how amazon won't let me leave the online book without writing a post! Bad way to go amazon.
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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 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 21 January 2018
Thought provoking but over-long for the content. Just too repetitive.
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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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