The World Until Yesterday

Updated: July 9, 2021

Instead of romanticizing the lifestyles of traditional societies, Jared Diamond provides a first-hand experience of the human past while elaborating on the differences between that past and our present and what it means for our lives today.

Favorite quotes from the book:

It is equally fruitless to debate whether humans are intrinsically violent or else intrinsically cooperative. All human societies practice both violence and cooperation; which trait appears to predominate depends on the circumstances.

A regular feature of the games of hunter-gatherer societies and the smallest farming societies is their lack of competition or contests. Whereas many American games involve keeping score and are about winning and losing, it is rare for hunter-gatherer games to keep score or identify a winner.

We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, video games, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly telling them what to do.

Devising new living conditions for our elderly, appropriate to the changing modern world, remains a major challenge for our society. Many past societies made better use of their elderly, and gave them better lives, than we do today. We can surely find better solutions now.