Jared Diamond

The World Until Yesterday

What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Viking 2012

New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Big IdeasNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network April 25, 2013 Marshall Poe

It’s pretty common–and has long been–for people to think that the “way it used to be” is better than the way it is. This...

It’s pretty common–and has long been–for people to think that the “way it used to be” is better than the way it is. This tendency to idealize an (imagined) past is particularly strong today among critics of modern civilization. Think of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, but one example of a huge modernity-bashing genre. They say, with some justice, that everything from schools, cities, and nation-states to processed foods, modern footwear, and iPads is, to some degree at least, bad for us.

This may be so, but no one to my knowledge except Jared Diamond has explored exactly what we should borrow from our ancient ancestors in order to improve our modern lives. In The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (Viking, 2012), Diamond does just that. He presents a whole list of things that hunter-gathers did somewhat better than “we” (first world, Western types) do. Listen in and find out what they are.

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