Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn…

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (2012)

by Jared Diamond

Other authors: Matt Zebrowski (Maps)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,075257,771 (3.54)30



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 30 mentions

English (21)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  Danish (1)  All (25)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
What can we learn from traditional societies
  jhawn | Jul 31, 2017 |
The latest from the superb Jared Diamond is an overview of the differences between modern society and the way humanity has lived for most of its history - as small, tribal groups. He uses examples of research into the various pre-modern tribes still extant, or recently so, including his own work of fifty years in New Guinea.

This is in no way a rosy-eyed critique of modern society, yearning for some mythic past where everything was better; Diamond is too smart and too good a scientist for that. Even when he does hold examples of where tribal peoples have a better system that modern America (his home, so the example he most often uses for the modern world, of course), he gives a wonderfully balanced view. For example, on treatment of the elderly he initially compares the way many tribes value their elders as sources of wisdom with the increasing practice of shuffling American seniors off to care homes with occasional visits, but points out that many 'primitive' societies have been far worse - exposing or banishing or killing members of the tribe when they cost more resources than they produce (a requirement of survival in harsh conditions such as desert or Arctic tundra, without modern technology) - and also that the practice of 'care homes' has arisen due to pressures that are particular to out societies.

As always, Diamond writes with an engaging, fluid clarity. The BBC reading was only five quarter-hour readings, so will have just skimmed the surface of his 500-odd page book and came across as not so much an abridgement as a taster. I think I'll have to put an order in at the library to get the full story. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
Most of this is a rehash of his previous books. I suspect it was to fulfill his contract.
  Pat_Gibson | May 28, 2017 |
What can those of us living in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic) societies learn from those who don't? More than you might think, according to Jared Diamond. This book provides several personal anecdotes of his time spent with hunter/gatherers and farming groups in New Guinea, but he speaks of others as well. By almost any measurable criteria you can imagine, people in WEIRD societies are much better off than those in what he calls traditional societies. We live longer, are less likely to be victims of war and violence, suffer fewer diseases, have more reliable access to food.... But these benefits come with costs. We eat a lot of junk (sugar, salt, fat), which brings on diseases, like hypertension and diabetes, that are uncommon in traditional societies. That's not because people in traditional societies are wiser or more virtuous or anything like that. It's because cheeseburgers, Doritos, and Snickers bars don't grow on trees and can't be dug out of the ground or brought down with a poison arrow. Still, there's a lesson here. Too much of a good thing isn't good for you. There are also personal costs relating to group identity and community interaction. In traditional societies, everyone knows everyone else in the group. Of course, that's only possible in small groups. I certainly don't know everyone in my city, or even in my neighborhood. For one thing, it's too large. For another, physical proximity does not imply the level of shared interests that it does in a traditional society. He also draws interesting comparisons on "legal" disputes, care of children and the elderly, and religion. Perhaps the most important lessons we can derive from the few surviving (and recently extinct) traditional societies are hints of where we came from. What kind of lives did our ancestors live? What challenges did they face? How did they overcome them? We owe much to those nameless ancestors. Because of them we can enjoy longer lives with much less risk of hunger, disease, and violence. This book helps us appreciate that. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Another excellent audio by Jared Diamond. This audio delivers on its title and then some. Makes you appreciate who we are. ( )
  GShuk | Aug 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Unlike some critics, I take Diamond at his word: I believe that he does want to show traditional lives in their complex reality, to demonstrate what they have to teach us without unduly idealizing them. He wants us to see people who live careful, attentive lives in a world of want and uncertainty, people who know how to love their children without reading books on how to do so. He wants to show us the dangers of war, and the bittersweet comforts of industrialization. Above all, he wants to show us how he has been changed by the life he has led. In the end, however, his scientist’s eye plays him foul. Diamond’s stories give one a clear understanding of the exact physical locations of the objects he describes, but leave the culture and emotion of Papua New Guineans unexamined. His description of the lives of traditional people accurately describes their digestion and gestation, but not their thoughts and feelings. And in the end, despite his attempts to be nuanced, his portrayal of the life of traditional people is straight out of Hobbes: nasty, brutish, short, and escapable only by submitting to the authority of a sovereign.
added by keristars | editThe Appendix, Alex Golub (Apr 1, 2013)
Diamond has a gift for storytelling. He presents his examples in a seductively readable voice with unflinching confidence, which makes his conclusions about the similarities and differences between traditional and modern society seem like common sense. But as I read the text, I found that I agreed with Diamond in inverse relation to my pre-existing knowledge about whatever subject he was addressing.
added by keristars | editSlate, Bryn Williams (Feb 18, 2013)
added by lorax | editWashington Post, Rachel Newcomb (Jan 25, 2013)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jared Diamondprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zebrowski, MattMapssecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Resnick, NancyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Meg Taylor,
in appreciation for decades
of your friendship,
and of sharing your insights into our two worlds
First words
At the Airport
An airport scene
“Why study traditional societies?”
Types of traditional societies
“Approaches, causes, and sources”
A small book about a big subject
Plan of the book

An airport scene
April 30, 2006, 7:00 A.M. I’m in an airport’s check-in hall, gripping my baggage cart while being jostled by a crowd of other people also checking in for that morning’s first flights.
Eine Szene am Flughafen.
30. April 2006, sieben Uhr morgens.
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670024813, Hardcover)

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.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:19 -0400)

Diamond reveals how tribal societies offer an extraordinary window into how our ancestors lived for millions of years -- until virtually yesterday, in evolutionary terms -- and provide unique, often overlooked insights into human nature.

» see all 5 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
2 avail.
357 wanted

Popular covers


Average: (3.54)
1 4
1.5 1
2 10
2.5 3
3 32
3.5 20
4 42
4.5 3
5 18

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 116,975,648 books! | Top bar: Always visible