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

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

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by Jared Diamond
     
 

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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

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Overview

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. A characteristically provocative, enlightening, and entertaining book, The World Until Yesterday will be essential and delightful reading.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Rachel Newcomb
…Jared Diamond is back with a sweeping and potentially controversial new work that aims to show readers what is missing from modern life…For an audience that may consider the present moment uncritically, The World Until Yesterday reminds us that in the headlong rush to modernity, much has been lost. While noting that the advantages of modern society far outweigh the insecurities of traditional life, Diamond nonetheless makes a compelling case for the lessons that traditional societies have to teach us.
The New York Times Book Review - Victoria Redel
…Shaughnessy's emotionally charged and gorgeously composed third volume of poems…moves me line by line and poem by poem so that by the book's final, monumental title poem, I am top-of-the-head-blown-off undone. In Our Andromeda Shaughnessy has brought to bear her inevitable syntactic and sonic hula-hooping, her playful and ironic uses of form, her vivid mind on poems that absolutely matter…Love is the fierce engine of this beautiful and necessary book of poems. Love is the high stakes, the whip of its power and grief and possibility for repair. Brenda Shaughnessy has brought her full self to bear in Our Andromeda, and the result is a book that should be read now because it is a collection whose song will endure.
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Praise for The World Until Yesterday
“Challenging and smart…By focusing his infectious intellect and incredible experience on nine broad areas — peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health — and sifting through thousands of years of customs across 39 traditional societies, Diamond shows us many features of the past that we would be wise to adopt.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from – and perhaps offer to – our more traditional kin.”
—Christian Science Monitor

“Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition and evolutionary biology. Diamond is a Renaissance man, a serious scholar and an audacious generalist, with a gift for synthesizing data and theories.”
—The Chicago Tribune

“The World Until Yesterday is another eye-opening and completely enchanting book by one of our major intellectual forces, as a writer, a thinker, a scientist, a human being. It's a rare treasure, both as an illuminating personal memoir and an engrossing look into the heart of traditional societies and the timely lessons they can offer us. Its unique spell is irresistible.”
—Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife

“As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  “Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues[…]is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience[…]A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.”—Kirkus, Starred Review

“This is the most personal of Diamond's books, a natural follow-up to his brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel.  Diamond has very extensive and long-term field experience with New Guineans, and stories of these admirable people enrich his overview of how all human beings acted until very recently.  Not only are his accounts fascinating, they will ring true to all who have experience with hunter-gatherer cultures.  And they carry many lessons for modern societies as well on everything from child-rearing to general health.  The World Until Yesterday is a triumph.”
—Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures.

“In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”—Booklist

“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[…]This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”—Publishers Weekly

“Jared Diamond has done it again. Surveying a great range of anthropological literature and integrating it with vivid accounts of a lifetime of visits—sometimes harrowing, more often exhilarating—to highland New Guinea, he holds up a needed mirror to our culture and civilization. The reflection is not always flattering, but it is always worth looking at with an honest, intelligent eye. Diamond does that and more.”
—Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing and The Evolution of Childhood

“An incredible insightful journey into the knowledge and experiences of peoples in traditional societies. Diamond’s literary adventure reflects on the problems of today in light of his exhaustive literature review and 40 plus years of living with rural New Guinean peoples.”
—Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers  (with Michael Lamb)

“In the 19th century Charles Darwin's trilogy—On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals changed forever our understanding of our nature and our history. A century from now scholars will make a similar assessment of Jared Diamond's trilogy: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and now The World Until Yesterday, his magnificent concluding opus on not only our nature and our history, but our destiny as a species. Jared Diamond is the Charles Darwin of our generation, and The World Until Yesterday is an epoch-changing work that offers us hope through real-life solutions to our most pressing problems.”
—Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters

From the Publisher
“Challenging and smart…By focusing his infectious intellect and incredible experience on nine broad areas - peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health - and sifting through thousands of years of customs across 39 traditional societies, Diamond shows us many features of the past that we would be wise to adopt.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from - and perhaps offer to - our more traditional kin.”
Christian Science Monitor

“Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition and evolutionary biology. Diamond is a Renaissance man, a serious scholar and an audacious generalist, with a gift for synthesizing data and theories.”
The Chicago Tribune

“The World Until Yesterday is another eye-opening and completely enchanting book by one of our major intellectual forces, as a writer, a thinker, a scientist, a human being. It's a rare treasure, both as an illuminating personal memoir and an engrossing look into the heart of traditional societies and the timely lessons they can offer us. Its unique spell is irresistible.”
Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife

“As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Diamond's investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues[…]is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience[…]A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.”-Kirkus, Starred Review

“This is the most personal of Diamond's books, a natural follow-up to his brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel.- Diamond has very extensive and long-term field experience with New Guineans, and stories of these admirable people enrich his overview of how all human beings acted until very recently.- Not only are his accounts fascinating, they will ring true to all who have experience with hunter-gatherer cultures.- And they carry many lessons for modern societies as well on everything from child-rearing to general health.- The World Until Yesterday is a triumph.”
Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures.

“In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”-Booklist

“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[…]This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”-Publishers Weekly

“Jared Diamond has done it again. Surveying a great range of anthropological literature and integrating it with vivid accounts of a lifetime of visits-sometimes harrowing, more often exhilarating-to highland New Guinea, he holds up a needed mirror to our culture and civilization. The reflection is not always flattering, but it is always worth looking at with an honest, intelligent eye. Diamond does that and more.”
Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing and The Evolution of Childhood

“An incredible insightful journey into the knowledge and experiences of peoples in traditional societies. Diamond's literary adventure reflects on the problems of today in light of his exhaustive literature review and 40 plus years of living with rural New Guinean peoples.”
Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers- (with Michael Lamb)

“In the 19th century Charles Darwin's trilogy-On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals changed forever our understanding of our nature and our history. A century from now scholars will make a similar assessment of Jared Diamond's trilogy: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and now The World Until Yesterday, his magnificent concluding opus on not only our nature and our history, but our destiny as a species. Jared Diamond is the Charles Darwin of our generation, and The World Until Yesterday is an epoch-changing work that offers us hope through real-life solutions to our most pressing problems.”
Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic Magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters - Praise for The World Until Yesterday

"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." - The New York Times Book Review

"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." - The Seattle Times

"Extremely persuasive...replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics." - The Boston Globe

"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." - Nature

"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." - Time

"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." -The Washington Post

"Rendering complex history and science into entertaining prose, Diamond reminds us that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it." - People (four stars)

"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." - The New York Times

"Read this book. It will challenge you and make you think." - Scientific American

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. - BusinessWeek

Library Journal
Bestselling author Diamond (geography, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Guns, Germs, and Steel) delves deeply into the world of humanity's ancient roots by exploring modern traditional societies still practicing hunting and gathering and subsistence agriculture. He skillfully examines the important lessons that technologically advanced societies can learn from traditional ways of life while taking an objective rather than a romanticized look at traditional cultural practices. His extensive examples come from many areas of the globe, with some of the most interesting coming from his own field research in the highlands of New Guinea. Diamond provides broad coverage of attitudes toward war and conflict resolution, child rearing, treatment of the aged, religion, multilingualism, and diet in both traditional and Western societies. He challenges modern Western societies to creatively explore and incorporate worthwhile aspects of traditional lifestyles and attitudes, providing a perceptive analysis of how they can be advantageous to Western societies today. He conveys a sense of urgency concerning the need to address modern social problems and find useful solutions. VERDICT This detailed, insightful, and accessible cultural study is bound to be popular with readers of Diamond's previous books as well as with general readers interested in anthropology, sociology, and other related fields.[See Prepub Alert, 8/1/12.]—Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
Kirkus Reviews
A supple and engaged journey into traditional societies and an exploration of their ways of life, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). As Diamond writes (Geography/UCLA; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2004, etc.), traditional societies--those that retain features of how our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, with low population densities in small groups, subsisting on hunting-gathering, farming or herding, with little transformative contact with industrial societies--hold a fascination to many of us. They provide a window into how society used to be fashioned and how we have found, or not, solutions to human problems. Diamond's investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues--dispute resolution, child rearing, treatment of the elderly, alertness to dangers, etc.--is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience. As he notes, the range and complexity of traditional societies does not permit easy generalizations. The author compares these societies with our "state" societies to see where their attributes shine more favorably. He is unafraid of making some sweeping suggestions--"Increases in political centralization and social stratification were driven by increases in human population densities, driven in turn by the rise and intensification of food production (agriculture and herding)"--while also examining the dozens of other factors involved. Diamond's experience with traditional societies has opened him to certain aspects that we might adopt to our benefit, including multilingualism, the importance of lifelong social bonds, nursing and physical contact with children, constructive paranoia and the significance of the aged. A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780594640035
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Publication date:
12/31/2012
Pages:
512
Sales rank:
51,493
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.75(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“As he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond continues to make us think with his mesmerizing and absorbing new book. In The World Until Yesterday, he pushes us to reconsider the contours of human society and the forces that have shaped human culture […] Powerful and captivating, Diamond’s lucid insights challenge our ideas about human nature and culture, and will likely provoke heated conversations about the future of our society.”
Book Page

“Challenging and smart…By focusing his infectious intellect and incredible experience on nine broad areas -- peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health -- and sifting through thousands of years of customs across 39 traditional societies, Diamond shows us many features of the past that we would be wise to adopt.”
--Minneapolis Star Tribune

The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from – and perhaps offer to – our more traditional kin.”
--Christian Science Monitor

“Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition and evolutionary biology. Diamond is a Renaissance man, a serious scholar and an audacious generalist, with a gift for synthesizing data and theories.”
--The Chicago Tribune

“As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.”
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  “Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues[…]is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience[…]A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.”--Kirkus, Starred Review

“In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”—Booklist

“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[…]This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”—Publishers Weekly

“Jared Diamond has done it again. Surveying a great range of anthropological literature and integrating it with vivid accounts of a lifetime of visits—sometimes harrowing, more often exhilarating—to highland New Guinea, he holds up a needed mirror to our culture and civilization. The reflection is not always flattering, but it is always worth looking at with an honest, intelligent eye. Diamond does that and more.”
--Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing:   and The Evolution of Childhood

“This is the most personal of Diamond's books, a natural follow-up to his brilliant Guns, Germs, and Steel.  Diamond has very extensive and long-term field experience with New Guineans, and stories of these admirable people enrich his overview of how all human beings acted until very recently.  Not only are his accounts fascinating, they will ring true to all who have experience with hunter-gatherer cultures.  And they carry many lessons for modern societies as well on everything from child-rearing to general health.  The World Until Yesterday is a triumph.”
--Paul R. Ehrlich, author of Human Natures

The World Until Yesterday is another eye-opening and completely enchanting book by one of our major intellectual forces, as a writer, a thinker, a scientist, a human being. It's a rare treasure, both as an illuminating personal memoir and an engrossing look into the heart of traditional societies and the timely lessons they can offer us. Its unique spell is irresistible.”
--Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife

“An incredible insightful journey into the knowledge and experiences of peoples in traditional societies. Diamond’s literary adventure reflects on the problems of today in light of his exhaustive literature review and 40 plus years of living with rural New Guinean peoples.”
--Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers  (with Michael Lamb)

“In the 19th century Charles Darwin's trilogy—On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals changed forever our understanding of our nature and our history. A century from now scholars will make a similar assessment of Jared Diamond's trilogy: Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and now The World Until Yesterday, his magnificent concluding opus on not only our nature and our history, but our destiny as a species. Jared Diamond is the Charles Darwin of our generation, and The World Until Yesterday is an epoch-changing work that offers us hope through real-life solutions to our most pressing problems.”
--Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of The Believing Brain and Why Darwin Matters

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