Plenty of provocative ideas in this grand sweep of evolutionary biology and anthropology: not surprising for this MacArthur "genius'' Award-winner, Natural History columnist, and UCLA Medical School physiology professor.
With only 1.6 percent difference between the human genome and the genomes of two species of chimps, Diamond declares that we should call ourselves "the third chimpanzee.'' (Curiously, he fails to mention neoteny as making a world of genetic difference.) Diamond first reviews human evolution, ending with the great leap forward that he attributes to language. New in this area is a discussion of animal art and communication (e.g., bowerbird constructions, vervet-monkey talk) and creolization (the development of sophisticated human languages from pidgin forms). With respect to other human features, Diamond reprises all the theories you've ever heard about sexual behavior, selection, menstruation, menopause, etc. Ditto for aging. He steers a common- sense course between extremes, opting for the games-theory approach of optimizing one's genes and of group survival. Old-but-not-fertile elders are essential imparters of knowledge for the group. A chapter on self-destructive behaviors (smoking, drinking, drug abuse) offers the peculiar theory that we do it to advertise that we are really superior because we can flaunt handicaps! No mention is made of the fit of the chemicals to receptors in the brain and to circuits evoking pleasure. Later, drawing on his special knowledge of New Guinea, Australia, and Polynesia, and his research on birds, Diamond provides a fascinating if overwhelmingly pessimistic view of human predation through genocide, species and resource destruction, and potential nuclear disaster. Conclusions of continued human, species, and planetary destruction are inescapable, in spite of Diamond's optimism that we can learn from the past and some modest success he has had with conservation programs.
Quirky arguments at times, yes, but generally Diamond is as sharp as his name.