Most of us take for granted the features of our modern society, from air travel and telecommunications to literacy and obesity. Yet for nearly all of its six million years of existence, human society had none of these things. While the gulf that divides us from our primitive ancestors may seem unbridgeably wide, we can glimpse much of our former lifestyle in those largely traditional societies still or recently in existence. Societies like those of the New Guinea Highlanders remind us that it was only yesterday—in evolutionary time—when everything changed and that we moderns still possess bodies and social practices often better adapted to traditional than to modern conditions.The World Until Yesterday provides a mesmerizing firsthand picture of the human past as it had been for millions of years—a past that has mostly vanished—and considers what the differences between that past and our present mean for our lives today.
This is Jared Diamond’s most personal book to date, as he draws extensively from his decades of field work in the Pacific islands, as well as evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. Diamond doesn’t romanticize traditional societies—after all, we are shocked by some of their practices—but he finds that their solutions to universal human problems such as child rearing, elder care, dispute resolution, risk, and physical fitness have much to teach us. Provocative, enlightening, and entertaining, The World Until Yesterday is an essential and fascinating read.
Praise for Collapse
A New York Times bestseller
"A magisterial effort packed with insight and written with clarity and enthusiasm. It’s also the deal of the year–the equivalent of a year’s college course by an engaging, brilliant professor, all for the price of a book.
"Diamond’s most influential gift may be his ability to write about geopolitical and environmental systems in ways that don’t just educate and provoke, but entertain."
"Extremely persuasive…replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics."
"Essential reading…Collapse [shows] that resilient societies are nimble ones, capable of a long-term planning and of abandoning deeply entrenched but ultimately destructive core values and beliefs."
"There are hopeful messages in Collapse. With Diamond’s help, maybe we’ll learn to see our problems a little more clearly before we chop down that last palm tree."
"Extraordinarily panoramic…Diamond’s complex historical web of how human communities either master their environment or become victims of them…takes a lifetime of research and, in normal English, leads the reader painstakingly where the media and intellectual journals have often refused to go."
"Rendering complex history and science into entertaining prose, Diamond reminds us that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it."
"Taken together, Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse represent one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual in our generation. They are magnificent books…I read both thinking what literature might be like if every author knew so much, wrote so clearly and formed arguments with such care."
"Read this book. It will challenge you and make you think."
"Extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in [its] ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the past."