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The world until yesterday : what can we…

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

by Jared M. Diamond

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Title:The world until yesterday : what can we learn from traditional societies?
Authors:Jared M. Diamond
Info:New York : Viking, c2012.
Collections:Your library
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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English (18)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  Danish (1)  All (22)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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 |
An enveloping read on traditional cultures, ranging from New Guinea to South American Indians, and comparing them to modern mainly American society. Doesn't romanticize either and highlights in interesting ways the differences between the two. Topics from warfare to child rearing and health are explored. ( )
  charlie68 | May 2, 2016 |
This book, by Jared Diamond, looks at traditional societies and the way they look/looked at the world and points out that our Western ways of doing things is not the only way of looking at the world, or solving problems.
Diamond is an American scientist who has spent a lot of time in New Guinea and his anecdotes and stories from this area are very interesting, though he does take a look at other societies as well.
( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
Jared Diamond has spent a lot of time with traditional societies, particularly in Papua New Guinea where most of the remaining such societies are based, and not surprisingly he finds much to recommend them, whilst accepting that he wouldn't want to spend much more than the 7% of his time there that he currently does, and also mentioning that "first contact" tribes are not at all sentimental about their life and quickly recognise the appeal of more rice and fewer mosquitoes.

In The World Until Yesterday, Diamond points out some of the benefits of traditional societies that he thinks modern society has eschewed to its detriment. One of the more interesting of these was his discussion of relative styles of child rearing - and it is probably true that a child benefits from continuous "skin contact" with its mother and other adults and rarely being on its own. But to do anything about that requires a complete restructuring of modern society which seems unlikely to happen. We are not going to stay in our community our entire lives; personally, from where I live, the nearest family member is 4,000km away. The next nearest is 11,000km away. This is the case for an increasing number of people. And it seems unlikely and is certainly undesirable, that women are going to depart from the workforce on mass to spend more time in touch with their child (although if workplaces where more child friendly, it would be another story entirely)

I enjoyed his reflections on "constructive paranoia" - yes, its true, we are certainly lax about everyday hazards - child rearing, the elderly, and traditional vs modern warfare. His comments on the benefits of a traditional diet are certainly true - no one doubts the epidemic of obesity and Diabetes 2 that a modern diet brings, but then why not explore why all societies are so keen to abandon it at the earliest opportunity? His comments on religion, though interesting, didn't really seem to fit with the rest of the narrative. Most sensible people accept that religion is the attempt of an inquiring mind to make sense of its environment with the information at its disposal; sometimes supernatural intervention must have seemed the most logical explanation. Why so many educated people still hang on to these myths is another question entirely - but then many books have all been written about that.

All in all I enjoyed this, although it was slow going at times. Rather than "The World Until Yesterday" though the book might rather have been titled "Why I enjoy spending time with traditional people in New Guinea, but am pleased to get home" ( )
  Opinionated | Sep 6, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jared Diamondprimary authorall editionscalculated
Zebrowski, MattMapssecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Resnick, NancyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Meg Taylor,
in appreciation for decades
of your friendship,
and of sharing your insights into our two worlds
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“Why study traditional societies?”
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“Approaches, causes, and sources”
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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 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.

(summary from another edition)

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