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The World Until Yesterday

The World Until YesterdayIn The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond compares traditional societies with the more-mainstream modern culture in an effort to answer the question posed by the subtitle --- "What can we learn from traditional societies?"  Diamond draws upon his extensive experience with the people of New Guinea (many of whom had no contact with Western society until 1931), along with data from other researchers about hunter-gatherer groups around the world, to reach wide-ranging conclusions about how traditional people interacted, what they ate, and how they lived.

In the process, Diamond doesn't sugar-coat the reality of traditional societies, admitting that warfare, infanticide, and many other aspects of these cultures are things we're glad to be rid of.  However, he does suggest other features of traditional societies that we can selectively incorporate into our own culture to improve our lives.


The book is a bit hit or miss, with some chapters stating the seemingly obvious, while others delve deep into fascinating topics I'd never considered.  It's also data heavy, perhaps because the author's Guns, Germs, and Steel opened Diamond up to wide-spread criticism from historians.  What I only realized after reading this later book, though, is that Diamond is an anthropologist, not a historian, so his conclusions are more about broader issues of the human experience than they are about factual histories.

Later posts in this week's lunchtime series are going to suggest homesteading-related implications of Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday.  However, I'll skip over discussing about two-thirds of the book, either because I don't feel like I have the know-how to rehash certain assertions (like his parenting tips), or because I don't want to open an un-homesteading-related can of worms (for example, about Diamond's analysis of the purposes of religion).  Which is a long way of saying --- if what you read here sounds interesting, this is one book you'll want to delve into more deeply on your own.


This post is part of our The World Until Yesterday lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:


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This book is going on my reading list. My alma mater would be distressed to find that Diamond is not a historian. I took a upper level history course there in the 90s entirely devoted to Guns, Germs and Steel. Although it is a tough read, it has provided me with some effective arguments against racism. Sad that such arguments are still needed. Good Blog!

Comment by Mark Tue Feb 4 00:36:08 2014
Nice review. It occurs to me, though, that we are not "rid of" warfare. And that I would probably be ok with trading modern warfare for the traditional version, would that I could.
Comment by Nick Thu Feb 6 00:22:47 2014

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime