The World Until Yesterday

The World Until Yesterday

What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?

Book - 2012
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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 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.
Publisher: New York : Viking, c2012.
ISBN: 9780670024810
Branch Call Number: 305.8991 DIAMOND
Characteristics: xi, 499 pages, [32] pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm.


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Not nearly as good as Collapse; and Guns, Germs, and Steel. I was disappointed. I think Jared Diamond has had his day in the sun and it was yesterday. I am glad I picked this up from the library and did not purchase it. True, it was well written, however, I found it to be a HUGE let down and a real slog to get through.

Feb 22, 2014

A better read would be Ishmael by Daniel Quinn...


Canada’s First Nations – A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times by Olive Dickason ( see below)

in regards to the study of anthropology itself:

Dara Culhane


Adrian Tanner


Gwen Reimer


Jean-Philippe Chartrand

Dr. Michael Asch


Dr. John Burrows


Dr. James Tully


the Smithsonian Institution’s Wilcomb Washburn, an historian, anthropologist and native American.

Law and Anthropology by
René Kuppe, Richard Potz


Feb 21, 2014

This book is overly long for the meager comparisons and recommendations that the author suggests for modern societies ( at the same time acknowledging rural society in the Western world is close to Traditional social dynamics.) The author briefly mentions but does not pursue unequal work burdens between the sexes in traditional society nor forced marriages. Besides the section on diet there isn't much here.The author should have probably just written an autobiography.

Jan 02, 2014

I'm not familiar with any of the controversies as mentioned in other comments. This book reminded me of a few of my Anthropology classes in college, so it didn't contain a lot of new facts for me. I think it's an interesting subject, and I appreciate how well researched it is, but it's a bore to read. It took me a while to get through this book, and towards the end, I just gave up because I was sick of the repetitiveness. Read this book if you didn't take an Anthropology class.

Starling16 Dec 19, 2013

At first I liked this book but due to some commenters below, I'm now questioning it. Look online for controversies about the author.

Oct 31, 2013

Diamond is always a good read but this one is a bit heavy. Too many details weigh down the reading. The ideas at base are sometimes fascinating but a good editor could have improved this immensely.

Oct 03, 2013

The writing is clear and precise and Diamond has clearly done a lot of research. The book is perhaps longer than it needs to be. Diamond knows the topic well and relates his personal experiences with New Guineans to great effect. But in the end, it's not clear how relevant his observations and suggestions are. Modern societies are structured very differently from traditional ones and it is not clear how we could adopt the good practices of traditional societies into our own society. A key point of Diamond's argument is that we evolved to live in traditional societies. What he doesn't seem to be willing to consider is that evolution doesn't stop. We have only just begun, in evolutionary terms, to live in modern societies. It may take thousands more years before humans fully adapt to this new way of living.

May 07, 2013

While this book isn't as exceptional and comprehensive as Diamond's two previous books (Collapse; and Guns, Germs, and Steel), The World Until Yesterday is still a valuable, fair comparison of traditional (hunter/gatherer) and modern (agricultural/industrial) societies. While it doesn't contain many new insights, and some of the personal annecdotes can be somewhat prolix and tedious, it's still an informative distillation of his previous books. Diamond makes a convincing argument that there are significant attributes and liabilities of both traditional and modern societies: By incorporating some traditional practices into our societies, we moderns would greatly improve our mental and physical health.

Feb 17, 2013

Negative rating due to lack of scholarship. (Yeah...yeah....yeah...I realize Diamond was awarded the Pulitzer, as other submediocrities from time to time are awarded it, but Diamond should stick with what he's best at, writing the introductions to hedge fund books!) One would be much better served reading the far superior social/economic anthropologist, Prof. Joseph Tainter.

Feb 17, 2013

Somewhat uneven, but it does provide a glimpse of some traditional societies (particularly in New Guinea) and what they have to offer "modern" people. I found the chapters on war, justice and avoiding danger the most interesting. The ones on child-rearing and diet contained less that was new to me; the one on religion was far more abstract than the rest of the book.

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