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Download The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Audiobook

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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,108 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jared Diamond Narrator: Jay Snyde Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Jared Diamond, a geographer at U.C.L.A., is known for his previous book, Guns, Germs and Steel, which won the Pulitzer Prize and in which he argued that the advent of agriculture is what eventually led to European dominance. He also wrote Collapse, in which he argued that societies which don't adapt to environmental change often disintegrate. In his latest book, The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, Diamond fascinates us with his research into tribal groups, giving us anecdotes from personal experience as well as facts and statistics which show exactly how human beings have changed in the course of the last 11,000 years.

Human history spans about 6 million years, but only the last 11,000 have seen human beings moving away from the traditional hunting-gathering model, settling down to agriculture and starting up modes of government. There are, of course, decided benefits to our modern way of life, one of which is the fact that people fight each other a lot less. This might seem untrue when we consider the two great world wars of the last century, but Diamond uses statistics to show us that when human beings were living in smaller groups, the scale of the fight might have been smaller but overall, more human beings ended up losing their lives. In modern society, we have reduced war-related deaths to one-tenth what they used to be.

However, there is also a lot we can learn from tribal societies. One of the most important things is communal living where a person always has someone else to talk to. In our modern life, we are often silent or communicating with others only via email or social media. But in traditional societies, people are always there for each other, and there are greater emotional bonds between them. Diamond also brings up certain practices of child-rearing that we can learn from e.g., many women in tribal societies carry their children in a sling facing forward which can lead to better neuromotor development.

This is a fascinating book with a lot of information about traditional societies and it's worth a read just to figure out where human beings came from. In some ways, this book makes us happy to belong to modern society, but it also points out what we can do to improve it.

Jared Diamond was born in Boston Massachusetts; his father was a physician and his mother was a teacher, linguist and concert pianist. Diamond himself learned to play the piano when he was young and, many years later, proposed to his wife after playing a Brahms piece for her. He went to Harvard where he earned his Bachelor's and to the University of Cambridge where he got his Ph.D. through his work on the physiology and biophysics of the membranes of the gall bladder. He has also become a scholar in other fields such as ornithology and ecology as well as environmental history. He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1999. He is married to Marie Diamond and they have two twin sons.

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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “For an audience that may consider the present moment uncritically, The World Until Yesterday reminds us that in the headlong rush to modernity, much has been lost. While noting that the advantages of modern society far outweigh the insecurities of traditional life, Diamond nonetheless makes a compelling case for the lessons that traditional societies have to teach us.”

    Washington Post

  • “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.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • The World Until Yesterday [is] a fascinating and valuable look at what the rest of us have to learn from—and perhaps offer to—our more traditional kin.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “Ambitious and erudite, drawing on Diamond’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, physiology, nutrition, and evolutionary biology.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “In this fascinating book, Diamond brings fresh perspective to historic and contemporary ways of life with an eye toward those that are likely to enhance our future.”


  • “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…This book provides a lifetime of distilled experience but offers no simple lessons.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Extraordinary in erudition and originality, compelling in [its] ability to relate the digitized pandemonium of the present to the hushed agrarian sunrises of the past.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Extremely persuasive…replete with fascinating stories, a treasure trove of historical anecdotes [and] haunting statistics.”

    Boston Globe

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
  • A Washington Post Bestseller
  • A #1 Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller
  • A Publishers Weekly Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Lisa | 2/15/2014

    " I love Jared Diamond. I enjoy how he sees the world, how he explains complex material and makes it understandable. He makes a great deal of sense. This one is about tradition living as exemplified primarily by villages in Papua New Guinea (with scattered examples elsewhere) compared to the modern western world. While Diamond clearly admires some aspects of the traditional cultures he has experience over the decades, this is no sonnet to the noble savage. He brings out the infanticide and elder murder as easily as the community relationships and natural multi-lingualism. Highly entertaining, it will seep into your sub-consciousness and influence how you think about a great many things, and help you appreciate the glorious state that allows us to walk around and not kill or be killed by the strangers that walk by us in the mall. (Read the book; you'll get it.) "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Ag | 1/31/2014

    " Not as interesting as I thought. This was a long slow read "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Jim | 1/28/2014

    " I have read a couple books by this author and both were extremely good and very interesting. Unfortunately, I found this book tedious to read and I lost interest quickly. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Fred | 1/19/2014

    " Like Diamond's other books, he presents some fascinating perspectives that would make it a great book-club selection. However, also like his other books, he writes in such a frustrating way, redundant, rambling, and flat, so the two stars are for the writing, but 5 stars for content. "

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