The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
By Jared Diamond; Read by Jay Snyder
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 31 December 2012
[UNABRIDGED] 16 CDs – 19 hours
Themes: / humanity / community / society / history /
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.
The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond is at its heart a consciousness-raising book. It opens our eyes to the way we live, the ways we used to live, and what we now take for granted. The book covers many broad subjects, and although Jared Diamond had to condense each of them to fit them all into one book, there is enough detail to give readers a clearer perspective about what it means to be a human in a community, and there are plenty of great anecdotes too.
The audiobook narration is great. Jay Snyder comes across as personable and interested in what he’s talking about, so it’s easy to stay engaged all the way through. He helped to make the huge spectrum of ideas and information easy to absorb.
Each subject in the book is explored from the context of different societies, ranging from traditional small-scale societies to modern nation-state societies. The subjects covered include the sharing of territory and resources; managing disputes; the benefits and inherent harms of certain justice systems; how we maintain friendships; how we deal with strangers or enemies; how we treat our children and the elderly; what cultural blind-spots we have when it comes to dangers, diseases; varying ideas about nutrition; and how religion has evolved for different purposes in different cultures and eras.
The anecdotes from Jared Diamond’s many experiences living with traditional, small-scale societies range from scary to comical (although of course, we who live in the West are usually the comical ones). The story about the deranged, murdering “sorcerer” who roamed the New Guinea jungle at night gave me the chills. And I cracked up laughing at the story about the New Guinea tribe who could not believe the first white Europeans they ever saw were people and not spirits. The European explorers stayed with them and kept insisting they were just regular humans, but the tribe didn’t believe them until later, when they checked the explorers’ toilet. It had never occurred to me to wonder whether ghosts shit.
Jared Diamond does not romanticize traditional life: he explores what works and what doesn’t in all the different societies. While he is passionate about certain ideas (e.g. the hidden harms in certain child-rearing practices in the West, or the benefits of constructive paranoia), he also tries to remain objective and offers critics’ viewpoints too.
The World Until Yesterday is also a call to action because it not only shows what people in large modern cultures can learn from small traditional societies, it also explains how we might integrate the more beneficial practices into our personal lives (and simultaneously phase out some of the weirder ones).
Overall, this was a fascinating book with loads of insights into what it means to be human as viewed through the lens of other cultures. I think a lot of ideas from this book will stay with me for a long time, and I’m sure I’ll listen to this again at different times of my life when I want a clearer perspective on my community, culture, or even my own behavior as an individual.
Review by Marissa van Uden.
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals
Talked about on today’s show:
Oz Reimagined, Orson Scott Card, John Joseph Adams, Marissa Vu, The Mad Scientist’s Guide To World Domination, Daniel H. Wilson, Alan Dean Foster, Seanan McGuire, Scott loves lists!!, Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon, the cruel god, about Science Fiction, mad scientists, steampunk, urban fantasy, superheroes, supervillians, Lex Luthor, Infinivox, Steampunk Specs, Cherie Preist, Cat Rambo, Margaret Ronald, Sean McMullen, do stage actors make the best narrators?, themed anthologies, Extinction Point (Book 1) by Paul Anthony Jones, Emily Beresford, Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird, Blackbird, post-apocalyptic novels, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Six Heirs (The Secret of Ji) by Pierre Grimbert, “Les editions Mnemos”, Bolinda Audio, the distorting effect of podcasts, are audiobooks taking over reading?, Luke Burrage, busy lifestyles, Gone Girl, Beautiful Ruins, archaeologist werewolf vampire oracles, “being a librarian is awesome”, is being a paramedic fun? Or is it full of paperwork?, Bones, forensic anthropology, Kathy Reichs, sorry no time traveling, high fantasy (aka epic fantasy), The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, The Worm Ouroboros, Neil Gaiman, the Neverwhere BBC audio drama, the TV show, the audiobook, Neverwhere as an allegory of homelessness, urban fantasy, Neil Gaiman can do no wrong, “I accept that”, Harry Potter is not high fantasy, Tolkienesque, George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Deadhouse Gates (A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson, Malazan is hot on GoodReads, Terpkristin, Mongoliad Book 3, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Copper Moo, comic crossovers, The Beast of Calatrava (A Foreworld SideQuest, Mongoliad) by Mark Teppo, Area 51: The Truth by Bob Mayer, Casey, Zero Dark Thirty, torturefest, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Among Others by Jo Walton, Between Two Thorns (The Split Worlds #1) by Emma Newman, Cornish accents please, Jumper by Steven Gould, Jumper vs. Looper, Reflex by Steven Gould, The Stars My Destination, teleportation, Impulse by Steven Gould, snowboarding, Sarah vs. Bryce, Angelopolis (Angelology #2) by Danielle Trussoni, Penguin Audio, Fabergé eggs, The Da Vinci Code, nightmare car trips, nightmare cruises, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, stolkholm syndrome, Seth Grahame-Smith, zombies, Redemption Alley (Jill Kismet Series) by Lilith Saintcrow, The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson, Spider Robinson is the humane hippie Heinleinian, theme park fantasy, the Callahan’s series, fascistic junky pro-war movies are ameliorated by reading Robinson, Heinlein and the sexual revolution, Michael Flynn, Falling Stars (Firestar Saga #4) by Michael Flynn, Footfall, the Russian meteor, what would have happened if it had happened over Ohio, instead of Siberia, Dan Carlin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, suspension of habeas corpus, an external vs an autoimmune threat, Farside by Ben Bova, Stefan Rudnicki, soap opera or space opera?, archaic characters, vintage SF, Jack Williamson, Omni magazine, Aftermath (Supernova Alpha Series #1) by Charles Sheffield, Black Feathers (The Black Dawn #1) by Joseph D’Lacey, Simon Vance, futuristic fantasy?, apocalyptic fantasy?, History Vikings, Jenny is 1/4 viking, Steen Hansen, the quasi historical saga dude, The Tudors, The Borgias, The Thrall’s Tale by Judith Lindbergh, Ireland, Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer, “real science fiction”, technothriller, Red Mars Blues, Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter, Connie Willis, steampunk, Tim Powers, The Age Atomic (sequel to Empire State) by Adam Christopher, Phil Gigante, Seven Wonders, superhero noir, intricately beautiful, The Stainless Steel Rat, Phil Gigante is the new narrator of Galactic Pot-Healer, Julie Davis, Robert Sheckley, suicidal characters, a comedic version of Neuromancer with the Wintermute role being played by Cthulhu, Tor, Imager’s Battalion by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., A Natural History Of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, Naomi Novik, Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper, The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, Finland, Tam books vs. Jenny books, The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, 500 Essential Cult Books: The Ultimate Guide by Gina McKinnon, 500 Essential Cult Movies: The Ultimate Guide by Jennifer Eiss, Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, Dreamscape Media, Toronto, conjoined twins, Brown Girl In The Ring, Midnight Robber, mojo vs. voodoo, Karen Lord, Cat Valente style fantasy, The White Woman On The Green Bicycle, Inherit The Stars by James P. Hogan, “a shimmering arpeggio”, Downpour’s new pricing is $12.99 per month, DRM FREE audiobooks are awesome, Identity Theft by Robert J. Sawyer, LibriVox, Gutenberg.org, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, The Devil In Iron by Robert E. Howard, The Hour Of The Dragon by Robert E. Howard, Mark Nelson, Bill Hollweg, what would a Robert J. Sawyer Conan story look like?
Posted by Jesse Willis
Downpour.com, Blackstone Audio’s online audiobook store, is a genuine competitor to Audible.com.
It offers audiobook downloads of titles, from Blackstone Audio’s extensive catalogue, and also those from many other audiobook publishers like Recorded Books, Harper Audio, Penguin Audio, Hachette Audio, and AudioGo.
Their subscription service is almost identically priced to Audible’s, each offers one credit per month for about $15. And, like an Audible credit Audible.com, a Downpour credit almost always gets you one audiobook.
I signed up for Downpour when they started late last Summer. And so far, I really, really like it.
I’ve had an account with Audible.com since 2001. But Audbile.com has always caused one giant problem for me: DRM.
DRM is actually designed to prevent you sharing your audiobook with your friends and family.
But worse, it can also make it difficult for you, the owner of the audiobook that you bought, to actually listen to what you have paid for.
Over the years I’ve spent countless hours trying to make an audiobook, that I bought, play on my audiobook players.
Every single time I’ve bought a new computer, iPod, iPad, or iPhone I’ve spent time authorizing and deauthorizing my devices. Sometimes it just takes a couple of minutes, sometimes hours.
Audible’s DRM makes you have to authorize your iTunes account, and your computer, and your iPhone, and your iPad, and your iPod. And you have to deauthorize your old devices to make the new devices work. You can’t have all of your devices authorized if you have more than three.
I just want my audiobooks to work like regular books, I want them to open up and give me their ideas. DRM cripples your ability to do that.
Downpour.com has no DRM at all. It just works.
In fact it works absolutely perfectly.
You make a purchase, it shows up in your online library, and then it downloads and delivers itself to your devices.
It is smoother than any audiobook service I’ve ever seen. It’s even smoother than Tantor Media’s excellent DRM-FREE download service.
If you use an iOS device for an audiobook, like I do, I’m betting Downpour.com is will work for you.
If you use a different audiobook player Downpour offers MP3s, which work with every audio player.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Please watch the video below for a brief overview of these recently arrived audiobooks:
- The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond
- Nightstalkers (Area 51) by Bob Mayer
- The Merchant of Dreams (Night’s Masque #2) by Anne Lyle
- Chicks Kick Butt: Stories edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes (available 12/24/12)
- Unnatural Acts (Dan Shamble, P.I.) by Kevin J. Anderson (available 12/24/12)
Posted by Jenny Colvin
Themes: / fairy / wizard / urban fantasy / near-death /
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…His soul.
After a slight departure from normal Dresden Files form in the preceding Ghost Story–owing to Harry’s (near) death and all–Dresden returns to corporeal form in Cold Days. But he can’t expect a warm welcome, even from his closest friends, because he’s now fulfilling his service as Winter Knight to Mab, the fairy Winter Queen. And this novel manages to raise the stakes again, for Harry, for Chicago, for the world. There have been so many Dresden Files novels now they actually fall into categories: there are vampire novels, fairy novels, wizard council novels, undead novels, and so forth. As the series grows there is more and more crossover, but Cold Days easily qualifies as a fairy novel.
I have two equal and opposite reviews in mind for Cold Days, and instead of choosing which to write, I’ll write both.
The first review argues that Cold Days, the fourteenth installment in the Dresden Files, suffers from serious series fatigue. With a few exceptions, it features largely the same cast of characters, the same locales, and the same themes that readers have grown accustomed to. Despite some glimpses of growth, development, and transformation, Harry Dresden is largely the same smart-mouthed, down-on-the-heel practicing wizard he was in Storm Front. His all-too-frequent pop culture references that once seemed amusing now strike a chord of annoyance. The frenetic action sequences that a few novels ago felt exhilarating now come off as trite and paint-by-numbers. In short, the novel makes me feel as if my once solid relationship with The Dresden Files has fallen a bit flat.
Some of the problems present in Cold Days are inherent in the stagnant conventions of urban fantasy as a whole. Except for a few quick jaunts to Edinburgh or Mexico, the entire series has largely taken place in Chicago. While Aristotle’s unity of place might be best practice for a play or even a novel, it certainly doesn’t work for a series of this length. This reader, at any rate, longs to see the heroes face other challenges in far-off lands. Worse, the single, small, isolated locale undermines the severity of the universal threats posed by the series’ villains. It’s difficult to take seriously a dangerous entity bent on world destruction when the only destruction in evidence takes place within a few city blocks.
With all the storylines introduced over the course of thirteen previous novels, it’s inevitable that not all of them can be picked up or carried along in a sequel, nor should they be. However, a pretty major development took place in book 12, Changes, prior to Harry’s apparent death, that is surprisingly absent from Cold Days, even in Harry’s continuous flow of internal monologue. He makes oblique references to it a few times, but I’d hoped that particular surprise would herald a shift in the series rather than merely the plot for a single novel. It is to be hoped that Jim Butcher will pick up this important thread in future novels.
The other review in my head praises Cold Days as a worthy installment to the Dresden Files series. This is largely on account of Jim Butcher’s vigorous writing style and strong characterization. Pop culture reference overload notwithstanding, Butcher’s writing, like a fine oak-aged whiskey, has only improved with age. Though the action sequences as a plot device are overused, there’s no denying they’re well-written. There’s a knock-down drag-out bar fight early in the novel, and you really can feel every shotgun blast and flying bar stool. The witty, flippant language that jaunts through the novel makes the few moments of gravity or pathos all the more powerful. There’s an exchange between Harry and his friend/love interest (to quote Facebook, “it’s complicated”) Karin Murphy that’s poignant and dramatic enough you’d expect to find it in a Scorsese flick.
And while Harry Dresden himself might wear thin at times, the host of supporting characters still haven’t lost their charm and complexity. Harry’s half-brother Thomas, his apprentice Molly, and polka-infused Medical Examiner Butters all make welcome and notable experiences. These characters crackle with life, personality, and possibility. For me, fantasy and science fiction novels, however wonderful their locales and however revolutionary their ideas, are only as strong as their characters. In a series of this length, the importance of characters increases exponentially. And even if some, including the protagonist, rub me the wrong way at times, they’re still characters I know and care about.
So, two equal and opposing reviews–how to break the tie? Simple: will I read the next Dresden Files novel? The answer is a definite yes. I don’t say this lightly. It takes a lot to keep me, and probably most readers, invested in a long-running series, especially in a sub-genre I don’t usually read. (Incidentally, the fact that I don’t often enjoy urban fantasy means you should take my first, negative review with a pinch of salt.) I bowed out of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after book seven, and I put down Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels after the third installment. Blasphemous as it sounds, I’m even losing patience with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet through thick and thin I’ve stuck with The Dresden Files for fourteen novels filled with great characters and complex supernatural elements. And I’m eager for a fifteenth.
The audio edition marks the return of James Marsters, best known as Spike from the Buffy the Vampire Series TV series, as narrator. Ghost Story, the previous novel, was narrated by John Glover. I feel sorry for narrators who have to pick up a series mid-stream, like John Lee who stood in for Roy Dotrice in narrating George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows. John Glover performed admirably in his reading of Ghost Story, and if he had read the series from the beginning there would have probably been no cause for complaint. But for the previous twelve novels, James Marsters was Harry Dresden. His dry, sometimes deadpan style perfectly fits the Chicago detective noir tone of the novels. So his return to the series is a welcome breath of fresh air. Also, major props to Marsters for hitting the sustained high notes in the dialogue of the minuscule fairy underlings.
Posted by Seth
Posted by Jenny Colvin