The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Jared M Diamond, Author
Jared Diamond. Viking, $36 (512p) ISBN 978-0-670-02481-0
Reviewed on: 09/17/2012
Release date: 12/31/2012
Hardcover - 512 pages - 978-0-7139-9898-6
Hardcover - 499 pages - 978-0-670-78589-6
Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-84614-815-6
Hardcover - 499 pages - 978-0-14-102448-6
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Lyrical and harrowing, this survey of traditional societies reveals the surprising truth that modern life is a mere snippet in the long narrative of human endeavor. “The hunter-gatherer lifestyle,” the author reminds us, “worked at least tolerably well for the nearly 100,000-year history of behaviorally modern humans.” Renowned for crafting startling theories across vast swaths of time and territory, Pulitzer Prize–winner Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) eschews the grand canvas to offer an empathetic portrait of human survival and adaptability. Drawing examples from Africa, Japan, and the Americas, Diamond details the astonishing diversity of human ideas about religion, warfare, child-rearing, eldercare, and dispute resolution. Most of the data comes from New Guinea, which is home to some of the last primeval peoples on Earth. The author has been conducting fieldwork on the Pacific island for half a century and writes about its cultures and ecology with palpable affection. This book presents a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons. Neither the first world nor tribal cultures possesses a monopoly on virtue. The cruelty of such traditional practices as infanticide and revenge killings is offset by the ennui and atomization of modern life. A world without Internet, television, and books, without lawyers, heart attacks, or cancer—for better and worse this was the world until “yesterday.” 16 pages of 4-color insert. Agent: John Brockman. (Jan.)
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