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.
The SFFaudio Podcast #196 – Scott, Jesse, and Tamahome discuss the Blackstone Audio audiobook of A World Out Of Time by Larry Niven.
Talked about on today’s show:
Tamahome is a third, Ender’s Game, 1976, Rammer by Larry Niven (1971), a fix-up novel, Infinivox, Pat Bottino, “his most perfect short story”, the novel ruins the short story (sort of), the anticipation is more interesting than the resolution, chapters 2 and 3 nullify the power of chapter 1, Corbell, Peerssa, the Clouds of Magellan, “a fuck you ending”, interesting social systems, a sciencey vocab, cryonics, Bussard Ram Jets, ergosphere, Protector, Beowulf Shaeffer, The Soft Weapon, the Technovelgy website, biological package probes, the bubble car, the empty man, gravity assisted subway, poster TV, RNA shots “don’t read Cliff Notes, eat Cliff”, planaria (flatworms) experiments, humans are wired for language, birds are wired for flight, young forever, Star Trek, null field, consciousness transferal, continuation of consciousness, Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback, Identity Theft (or Shed Skin), your robot body, we care about will, Four Worlds Of The Diamond by Jack Chalker, “there’s a mystery that needs to be solved, cloning, Lilith: A Snake In The Grass, Audible.com, The River Of The Dancing Gods, The Identity Matrix, Demons Of The Dancing Gods, G.O.D., Inc., Dancers In The Afterglow, Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley, “who are you when you’re just some ground up hamburger?”, he’s treated like a criminal, why don’t the citizens want to make this trip?, a certain kind of person, Louis Wu, “a special sort of breed”, the two CBC Ideas shows on James Cameron, manned spaceflight, Playgrounds Of The Mind, “my favourite characters are all tourists”, “I demand to be a tourist”, The Integral Trees by Larry Niven, a whole world in zero gravity, “this guy is Mr. Physics”, Arthur C. Clarke, Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, Robert A. Heinlein, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, David Brin, passing a planet, “something on the order of that”, moving planets, Uranus, mathematically logical (but with non-existent materials), the air is full of the oceans, the null-rooms, a null-box, zero-entropy space, better sandwich storage, transporting the garbage out, Doctor McCoy, quantum communication and quantum teleportation, Think Like A Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly, Seeing Ear Theatre, Dream Park, Oath Of Fealty, The Mote In God’s Eye, Inferno, Lucifer’s Hammer, Luke Burrage, Escape From Hell, Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, an alien invasion story, Scott has a signed copy!, elephantine aliens with twin trunks, the audiobook of Footfall is available, a book written by people who care about science!, a septic tank full of books, Robert A. Heinlein, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, David Brin, the DHS vs. the U.S. military, what would Larry Niven do as the head of the EPA?, a Death Star, Obama’s unemployed geekishness, Newt Gingrich, moonbase!, he loves himself because he’s surrounded by idiots, the idea of an idea man is fantastic, Douglas Adams, a thousand or ten thousand year project, focused on the current and the recent past, the deep time issue, time capsules, the Long Now Foundation, cathedral building, pyramid building, “on the cosmic scale”, the space race was motivated by military competition, Space X http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX , a private moonbase?, the ultra rich, science isn’t for profit, human existence isn’t for profit, space probes, hydro-electric dams, where is the Moonbase Kickstarter?, maybe we could have just one guy and his clone up there, Moon, real Science Fiction, Crashlander, Neutron Star, Peter F. Hamilton is an ideas man, Great North Road, five pages describing a weather change, another fix-up novel, Neutron Star, the animated Star Trek, Kzin, Alan Dean Foster, World Of Ptavvs, Algis Budrys, telepathy, Charles Stross, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Community, The Big Bang Theory, Dan Harmon’s keynote.
Posted by Jesse Willis
A live video of this year’s Worldcon Hugo Awards (Chicon 7: The 70th World Science Fiction Convention), held in Chicago, was being streamed on Ustream until shortly after clips from three Doctor Who episodes, an episode of Community, and a clip from last year’s Hugo Awards ceremony were shown. Neil Gaiman was giving his acceptance speech, for The Doctor’s Wife, when he was suddenly cut-off and replaced by a black screen and the words “Worldcon was removed due to violation of terms of service.”
Speculation by viewers, in the chat room associated with Ustream included surmises such as “Well, someone DCMA’d the Hugo live webcast” – and yet another chatter rightly pointed out that the clips used were “clearly FAIR USE.”
Things are clearly fucked up south of the border when a private “TERMS OF SERVICE” acts in place of copyright.
The next Hugo Awards ceremony should be released via torrent.
“Samuel Montgomery-Blinn Official announcement from @Chicon7 says that Ustream won’t be bringing this back online.”
Posted by Jesse Willis
Started back in August 2006, the latest Science Fiction classic from LibriVox.org is The Island Of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. As with many LibriVox titles this one was a multi-reader audiobook project.
The Island Of Dr. Moreau
By H.G. Wells; Read by various readers
1 Zipped Folder of MP3 Files – 4 Hours 38 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Completed: March 2nd 2007
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells, addressing ideas of society and community, human nature and identity, religion, Darwinism, and eugenics.
When the novel was written in the late 19th century, England’s scientific community was engulfed by debates on animal vivisection. Interest groups were even formed to tackle the issue: the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed two years after the publication of the novel. The novel is presented as a discovered manuscript, introduced by the narrator’s nephew; it then ‘transcribes’ the tale.