The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond
What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

66%

29 Critic Reviews

One wishes that the author's willingness to confront complexity and avoid simple answers had informed more of this disappointingly uneven book.
-WSJ online

Synopsis

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.
 

About Jared Diamond

See more books from this Author
JARED DIAMOND is Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. The recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship ("Genius Award") and winner of the "Los Angeles Times" Book Award.
 
Published December 31, 2012 by Penguin Books. 544 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Jan 20 2013
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Critic reviews for The World Until Yesterday
All: 29 | Positive: 15 | Negative: 14

Kirkus

Good
on Sep 23 2012

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

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by David Brooks on Jan 10 2013

This book reminds you how important geography is, but it also unwittingly reminds you how important history and culture are, and how certain core conceptions...have been shaped by our civilizations.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Wade Davis on Jan 09 2013

... the bibliography of The World Until Yesterday is meagre. A book of great promise reads as a compendium of the obvious, ethnology by anecdote.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Sep 17 2012

Lyrical and harrowing, this survey of traditional societies reveals the surprising truth that modern life is a mere snippet in the long narrative of human endeavor.

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WSJ online

Below average
Reviewed by Stephen Budiansky on Jan 04 2013

One wishes that the author's willingness to confront complexity and avoid simple answers had informed more of this disappointingly uneven book.

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Star Tribune

Below average
Reviewed by STEPHEN J. LYONS on Dec 29 2012

In the dense, challenging and smart "The World Until Yesterday," Diamond...says that to give traditional societies a pass while criticizing our own is to do disservice to both worlds.

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Globe and Mail

Excellent
Reviewed by JOHN BARBER on Dec 21 2012

...the author makes a persuasive case for learning from our evolutionary seniors.

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The Economist

Above average
on Jan 05 2013

Mr Diamond’s book is mostly a fascinating survey of a rapidly fading world. Only when it tries to pose as a handbook for tribal living does it fall flat.

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National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by Josipa Petrunic on Jan 18 2013

More description, less prescription — a handy recipe to follow if Diamond wants to serve up his best minus the moralizing froth on top.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Rachel Newcomb on Feb 18 2013

...a compelling case for the lessons that traditional societies have to teach us.

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The Telegraph

Below average
Reviewed by Tom Payne on Jan 08 2013

I put this book down not completely convinced that I could incorporate many of its teachings into my life, nor thinking that New Guinea was all that attractive a place for a long holiday...

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Steve Weinberg on Dec 31 2012

...a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from – and perhaps offer to – our more traditional kin.

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Dallas News

Excellent
Reviewed by WILLIAM COBB on Jan 25 2013

...Diamond breaks new ground of understanding by digging into the past (and present) for answers and insight.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Tom Phillips on Feb 18 2013

Professor Diamond’s engaging style of storytelling makes his astute and scholarly observations accessible to lay readers.

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Open Letters Monthly

Below average
Reviewed by Steve Donoghue on Feb 18 2013

...The scarcely-concealed tone of yearning in Diamond’s book is easily its most troubling aspect...

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Slate

Below average
Reviewed by Bryn Williams on Feb 18 2013

My lingering questions about sources and framing turn what could have been a delightful and informative introduction to anthropology and human diversity into a foggy text that obscures more than it illuminates.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Below average
Reviewed by Drusilla Modjeska on Feb 02 2013

Does Diamond really think we can reassess our risky behaviour with alcohol through a bit of constructive paranoia?

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Newsday

Below average
Reviewed by Daniel Akst on Jan 02 2013

It will strike many readers as plodding at times, especially because...it lacks a unifying central argument. Some judicious editing might have helped focus the vast research and avoid belaboring points already well made.

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We Love This Book

Good
Reviewed by Nick Rennison on Feb 18 2013

...Jared Diamond’s book is simply an engrossing study of the different ways older societies have dealt with the fundamental challenges of being human.

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Chicago Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Julia Klein on Dec 28 2012

"The World Until Yesterday" is also marred...by a plodding, repetitive academic style. Like a stereotypical dissertation writer, Diamond tells us the six points he's about to make...and then sums them up, unnecessarily adding to the book's length.

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Cleveland.com

Good
Reviewed by Alex Nalbach on Dec 20 2012

As always, Diamond manages to combine a daring breadth of scope, rigorous technical detail and personal anecdotes that are often quite moving.

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Tulsa World

Below average
Reviewed by Rasha Madkour on Jan 13 2013

Although there is no shortage of thought-provoking material in the book, it's unclear whether a casual reader would have the patience to slog through some of the more mundane, drawn-out sections.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Jon on Dec 23 2012

A characteristically provocative, enlightening, and entertaining book, The World Until Yesterday will be essential and delightful reading.

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The New Zealand Herald

Below average
Reviewed by Chris Barton on Jan 27 2013

...sifting through the tedium...requires perseverance that may be beyond many readers.

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Science News

Above average
Reviewed by Nathan Seppa on Jan 24 2013

The book...analyzes treatment of the elderly, everyday dangers and religion. There is plenty to learn from traditional people, not least because we “modern” people are hardwired for their lifestyle, not ours.

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The Age

Good
Reviewed by Drew Turney on Feb 17 2013

...this book makes us realise that we're not so different from other animals and that the animal kingdom itself is a messy spectrum with no simple ''us and them''.

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The Missoulian

Below average
Reviewed by David Ulin on Jan 13 2013

...the broadness of the argument ultimately undermines its conclusions...

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Infoshop News

Excellent
Reviewed by Chris Knight on Jan 08 2013

... this is a book to be celebrated. Diamond has opened the door to "reverse anthropology" - the kind that learns from the people it studies and applies those lessons to itself.

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National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Josipa Petrunic on Jan 18 2013

More description, less prescription — a handy recipe to follow if Diamond wants to serve up his best minus the moralizing froth on top.

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