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

Version: Unabridged
Author: Jared Diamond
Narrator: Jay Snyder
Genres: History, Non-Fiction, Social Science
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks
Published In: December 2012
# of Units: 16 CDs
Length: 16 hours, 39 minutes
Ratings:
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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.

Reviews (1)

Written by Martin Prahl on December 13th, 2015

  • Book Rating: 3/5

Like so many times before, Diamond interweaves seemingly unrelated aspects of history, physiology and psychology into a noteworthy lesson about humanity as a whole--this time about what affluent modern nations can learn from the old, rugged traditional ones. Diamond is no Gladwell in terms of writing style and doesn't try to be. However, the overall theme of the book is conveyed sufficiently and does achieve what his works are known to do--thinking outside the box and leaving the reader with a new perspective on society and human life overall.

Author Details

Author Details

Diamond, Jared

Jared Diamond was born in Boston to a physician father and a teacher/musician/linguist mother. After training in laboratory biological science he became Professor of Physiology at UCLA Medical School in 1966. However, already while in his twenties, he also developed a second parallel career in the ecology and evolution of New Guinea birds. That led him to explore some of the most remote parts of that great tropical island, and to rediscover New Guinea’s long-lost Golden-fronted Bowerbird. In his fifties he gradually developed a third career in environmental history, becoming Professor of Geography and of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA.

As well as being renowned in academic circles, Jared Diamond is famous for his prize-winning books The Third Chimpanzee and Why is Sex Fun?, and for revolutionizing the study of global human history with Guns, Germs and Steel. His awards include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (a ‘genius award’), and the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. The broad range of disciplines that he weaves into his writing – linguistics, genetics, animal behaviour, molecular biology and others – caused a reviewer to write, ‘ “Jared Diamond” is suspected of actually being the pseudonym for a committee of experts.’ In his spare time he watches birds and learns languages (he is currently learning his twelfth). He is the father of seventeen-year-old twin sons who have informed much of his outlook on life. His latest book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive (Penguin, 2006).