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The world until yesterday : what can we learn from traditional societies? (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Jared M. Diamond

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6551714,692 (3.58)26
Member:rivkat
Title:The world until yesterday : what can we learn from traditional societies?
Authors:Jared M. Diamond
Info:New York : Viking, c2012.
Collections:Your library
Rating:**1/2
Tags:nonfiction, borrowed from library

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

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» See also 26 mentions

English (15)  Spanish (2)  All languages (17)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I confess that I didn't get very far into this book at all, so maybe my review is unfair. However, there were so many major methodological problems at the beginning of the book that I was afraid to read on - I wasn't willing to trust any of Diamond's conclusions, because he is so cavalier with his evidence.

My problem is that he treats "traditional societies" as a single homogeneous thing. He acknowledges at the beginning that he is oversimplifying his terminology, but "oversimplify" doesn't begin to describe it. He only briefly touches on the fact that gathering reliable information about "traditional societies" is extremely problematic. For pre-modern traditional societies, we have to rely on archaeological evidence, which can only tell us so much and can be extremely difficult to interpret, especially depending on the quality of the archaeological dig. For traditional societies who have come into contact with modern societies, the evidence is even more difficult to interpret - the very act of gathering the evidence taints it, because it requires interacting with these people. Diamond briefly mentions these facts, then goes on to totally ignore them. He will make a statement about traditional societies, and then he will provide 5 examples, but these examples are all from different time periods and different parts of the world. It is very problematic to make generalizations based on such disparate evidence, but Diamond doesn't seem to mind at all. When he gives examples, he never discusses how certain we can be about the statements he is making, or what evidence he bases these statements on. I fear that he is cherry-picking the examples that back up his points and ignoring examples that do not.

So that's why I didn't read much of this book - Diamond's use (or misuse) of evidence made me distrust any conclusions he might make. ( )
2 vote Gwendydd | May 16, 2014 |
The book was interesting and had some specific areas of interest for me including discussion of religion, diet, health, and language. Some topics such as that of constructive paranoia were discussed to excruciating detail. Jared is excellent at detailed research and has an academic approach to his analysis. This is helpful to some extent and can also generate some lengthy discussion of minutia. Overall I liked the book and would recommend it. I am convinced to adapt some behaviors from ancient civilization including diet modification. ( )
  GlennBell | Apr 9, 2014 |
Really enjoyed the exploration of traditional societies. He seems overly worshipful of the idea of political power and dismisses free societies as a possibility with no argument.

Great historical stuff in here, highly recommend. ( )
  BillRob | Oct 16, 2013 |
[quote]In Africa you share things. For example, while I was in school, I acquired a red inner tube of a rubber tire. Rubber was valuable to make slingshots. For a long time, I shared pieces of my valuable red inner tube with other kids for them to make slingshots. But in the U.S., if you acquire something valuable, you keep it for yourself and you don't share it. In addition, nobody in the U.S. would know what to do with an inner tube[/quote]

[a:Jared Diamond|256|Jared Diamond|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1355359393p2/256.jpg] writes about the world as it has been in the recent (and not so recent past). He spends a great deal of time living among the people of New Guinea, observing, contrasting, comparing the way different cultures of the world do things.

The book is broken up into topics, space, peace and war, young and old, danger and response, religion, language and health. Within each topic he investigates many cultures around the world and compares them, for better or worse, with our own.

I have welcomed the knowledge in this book, and the way he tries to remain neutral, not romanticising the non-western cultures (as some books often do). The way the New Guineans war with each other is downright scary.

I was very interested in the chapters devoted to birth, child rearing, and the care of the elderly. It is wonderful to see both sides of a story. In the birthing community we often dream wistfully of the way birthing used to be (back before obstetricians started taking over), but this book shows that for many cultures birth and child raising has always been full of difficulties. He talks of one night listening to a woman die while giving birth, powerless to help and shocked the tribes people left her alone in her agony.

Jared Diamond is 75 years old, a Pulitzer prize winner, and a bestselling author. The man has some strong opinions and the book is full of his opinions and beliefs, though I suspect this was unintentional. Still it was a great incite and I would recommend this book. ( )
  alsocass | Oct 12, 2013 |
I really wanted to like this book, but I don't. It would have been better if he had refrained from repeating himself endlessly in the first few chapters. I may get back to this one eventually, but probably not. ( )
  trinkers | Aug 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (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 editionsconfirmed
Zebrowski, MattMapssecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Resnick, NancyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People/Characters
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Important events
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Epigraph
Dedication
To
Meg Taylor,
in appreciation for decades
of your friendship,
and of sharing your insights into our two worlds
First words
Prologue
At the Airport
An airport scene
“Why study traditional societies?”
States
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.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:34 -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.

(summary from another edition)

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