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

Dr. Jared Diamond

The mega-bestselling author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, Dr. Jared Diamond surveys the differences between “traditional” societies and industrial or post-industrial societies, with an eye to the question: what can we learn from the former that can make the world we live in a better place for all of us? Today, citizens of industrial states take for granted metal, writing, airplanes, police and government, overweight people, meeting strangers without fear, heterogeneous populations, and so on. But all those features of modern human societies are relatively new in human history. For most of our past, human societies had none of these things. Today’s traditional societies are in many respects a window onto the human world as it was until a mere yesterday, measured against a time scale of the 6,000,000 years of human evolution. Those societies show us pieces of how all of our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years. Traditional lifestyles are what shaped us and caused us to be what we are today; all human societies have been traditional for far longer than any society has been modern. Thus, traditional represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society. They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own modern societies. Diamond gives us a first-hand picture of the human past as it has been for millions of years and considers what the differences between that past world and our present one mean for our collective future.

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