THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY by Jared Diamond
Kirkus Star

THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY

What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

KIRKUS REVIEW

A supple and engaged journey into traditional societies and an exploration of their ways of life, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997).

As Diamond writes (Geography/UCLA; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2004, etc.), traditional societies—those that retain features of how our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, with low population densities in small groups, subsisting on hunting-gathering, farming or herding, with little transformative contact with industrial societies—hold a fascination to many of us. They provide a window into how society used to be fashioned and how we have found, or not, solutions to human problems. Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues—dispute resolution, child rearing, treatment of the elderly, alertness to dangers, etc.—is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience. As he notes, the range and complexity of traditional societies does not permit easy generalizations. The author compares these societies with our “state” societies to see where their attributes shine more favorably. He is unafraid of making some sweeping suggestions—“Increases in political centralization and social stratification were driven by increases in human population densities, driven in turn by the rise and intensification of food production (agriculture and herding)”—while also examining the dozens of other factors involved. Diamond’s experience with traditional societies has opened him to certain aspects that we might adopt to our benefit, including multilingualism, the importance of lifelong social bonds, nursing and physical contact with children, constructive paranoia and the significance of the aged.

A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02481-0
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2012




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