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The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

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At some point during the last 100,000 years, humans began exhibiting traits and behavior that distinguished us from other animals, eventually creating language, art, religion, bicycles, spacecraft, and nuclear weapons—all within a heartbeat of evolutionary time. Now, faced with the threat of nuclear weapons and the effects of climate change, it seems our innate tendencies for violence and invention have led us to a crucial fork in our road. Where did these traits come from? Are they part of our species immutable destiny? Or is there hope for our species’ future if we change?

With fascinating facts and his unparalleled readability, Diamond intended his book to improve the world that today’s young people will inherit. Triangle Square’s The Third Chimpanzee for Young People is a book for future generation and the future they’ll help build.

407 pages, Paperback

First published May 2, 1991

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About the author

Jared Diamond

47 books6,795 followers
Jared Mason Diamond is an American geographer, historian, ornithologist, and author best known for his popular science books The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse, The World Until Yesterday, and Upheaval. He is Professor of Geography at UCLA and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 974 reviews
Profile Image for Chuck.
2 reviews22 followers
February 15, 2020
Another great book from Jared Diamond. I found this to be just as engaging as Guns, Germs, and Steel, and also an easier read. I find that his books have so much information that it is helpful for me to outline them as I go. Here are my favorite bullet points from The Third Chimpanzee. Not at all a comprehensive outline, but may be of interest to some people.

Chapter 1
- Our ancestors diverged from other apes around 7 million years ago.
- We share 98.4% of DNA with common chimps.
- Chimps are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. We are really a third kind of chimp.

Chapter 2
- We descended from Cro-Magnons, not Neanderthals.
- Hunter-gatherers were probably poor hunters.
- Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals co-existed 100,000 years ago (from 130,000 years ago until 40,000 years ago).
- The Great Leap Forward occurred 40,000 years ago with the emergence of spoken language. Progress no longer depended on genetic evolution but cultural evolution.

Chapter 3
- Across primate species, degree of polygyny is correlated with sexual dimorphism in body size and other physical features, and also testis size of males.
- Humans have exceptionally large penises and breasts for our body sizes.

Chapter 4
- Roughly 10% of babies are adulterously conceived.
- Unlike most mammals, human ovulation is concealed and sex is done in private.
- Also unlike most mammals, humans have sex all the time and it's purpose is largely social rather than merely for reproduction.

Chapter 5
- Couples tend to have a high degree of correlation (+.9) in religion, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, age, and political views; (+.4) for personality and IQ; (+.2) for physical traits; (+.61) for middle finger length.
- Incest taboo is probably genetic rather than cultural. We avoid people we grew up with between birth and 6 years, but then as adults we seek out partners similar to those people.

Chapter 6
- Racial variation can be explained only partly by natural selection (correlation between skin pigmentation and latitude - which is nevertheless noisy); but it is also probably due largely to sexual selection which results from the mating preferences reviewed in the previous chapter.

Chapter 7
- Body is like a car. Scheduled maintenance and unscheduled repair. When do you scrap it? When everything breaks at once. But it's not a conscious decision to scrap it. The evolutionary reasoning is this: the body is only as strong as the weakest part. So given that it's going to fail, it's ideal/optimal if they all fail at the same time.
- If you are likely to get in a crash that totals the car in the near future, then it's not worth investing in a lot of repair and maintenance.
- Rate of aging across species is correlated with age of first reproduction.
- Turtles live long because it's worth repairing their bodies because they have good protection (shell) and so are unlikely to die a sudden violent death.
- Menopause is a solution to the risk taking behavior of having more kids. Human childbirth is particularly dangerous. Having a fourth kid could kill the mom and put the other three at risk.

Chapter 8
- Most sophisticated animal "language" studied to date is the vocalizations of vervet monkeys.
- Vervets have at least ten "words": "leopard", "snake", "unfamiliar human", etc. They are truly words, not just stimulus-response grunts, because they sometimes use them in a lie to confuse rival troops.
- There is no correlation between linguistic and social complexity. (Really?)
- Children in a community of pidgin-speaking parents spontaneously add grammar to make the next generation a full creole language.
- Chomsky said we have universal grammar, with switches that can be set for different word orders and specifics; Bickerton went further to say those switches have a default value (a default word order that emerges spontaneously unless overridden by the linguistic environment).
- Babies start to say single words; then at two they can make multi-word phrases; then at four they can make complete sentences. That stage may have enabled the Great Leap Forward.

Chapter 9
- First human (Cro-Magnon) art emerged around the Great Leap Forward 40,000 years ago in the form of cave paintings and flutes.
- Bowerbirds use their art to woo mates. It is as if women put each of their suitors in sequence through a weight-lifting contest, sewing contest, chess tournament, eye test, and boxing tournament, and finally went to bed with the winner.
- In humans, dance and music and poetry are common preludes to sex.
- In summary, art is about sex. And now that we have lots of free time, our art can get very elaborate and serve other functions (such as aesthetics) as well.

Chapter 10
- No other primate practices agriculture. Closest thing is ants, which grow fungus and use insects such as aphids like cattle, drinking their honeydew.
- Hunter-gatherers are taller, work as many hours or fewer than farmers, have healthier bones, fewer diseases, fewer cavities, have a more diverse diet, are better nourished, are less susceptible to famine because of the diverse diet, and have lower rates of mortality at every age.
- Today just three plants - wheat, rice, and corn - provide more than 50% of calories consumed by the human species.
- American and European civilized society are elites, and their lives are better in large part because of oil and other resources. The elite became healthier, but at the expense of the majority who became worse off.
- Agriculture allowed for specialists and for class divisions.
- Agriculture allowed for birth intervals to shorten from 4 years to 2 years, and increased calories per unit area of land tenfold, thus dramatically increasing population density.
- Agriculture was not a conscious choice. It spread largely because it could support a population density 10x of hunter-gatherers, and 10 malnourished warriors can still beat 1 healthy bushman.

Chapter 11
- We drink and use drugs as a sexual advertisement that says, look how much of a handicap I can give myself and still be superior. Like birds of paradise with long tails that make it susceptible to attack. It says, look how long and heavy my tail is but I can still get away from predators.
- but in humans drugs and alcohol are addicting and also genuinely harm the user.

Chapter 12
- An important consideration in guessing whether intelligent life exists elsewhere is the degree of convergent evolution (inevitably).
- Woodpeckers exploited an extremely rewarding niche, but only evolved once. On the other hand, eyes and flight evolved multiple times independently.

Chapter 13
- Europe has about 50 languages, but New Guinea has one hundredth of the population but 1,000 languages.
- New Guinea included lots of small societies completely isolated from one another by the terrain.
- We are becoming culturally homogenized; there are very few places where alternative models for society can exist.

Chapter 14
- Of the many plants and animals available as candidates for domestication, only a few are actually domesticable, and those happened to be in Europe and the Near East.
- In addition to that head start, the east-west axis of Eurasia allowed the spread of farming more easily than the north-south axis of the Americas did.
- Rise of civilization brought disease and the people evolved immunity; but not hunter-gatherers.

Chapter 15
- Language evolves over time, and languages diverge to become mutually unintelligible when a group becomes isolated, just like speciation.
- Glottochronology is like a genetic clock; languages replace 20% of their words every one thousand years, but it's noisy.
- Invention of wheel about 3,000 BC (or about 5,000 years ago).
- Domestication of horses about 4,000 BC (6,000 years ago).
- Indo-European languages probably had a common ancestor around 3,000 BC north of the Black Sea. The package of agriculture and technology there allowed rapid waves of expansion, then another expansion into the Americas, and now half the world speaks Indo-European languages.

Chapter 16
- Chimps are xenophobic. They recognize members of other bands and treat them differently. They practice genocide.
- Many species practice murder, and some genocide.
- Stalin and Hitler were better at genocide because of technology, communications, and high population density.
- Humans practice a dual standard of behavior: strong inhibitions about killing one of "us", but a green light to kill "them".
- Our early American heroes were outspoken supporters of Native American genocide.

Chapter 17
- Tells the story of three ancient civilizations that collapsed due to environmental exhaustion: Easter Island, Anasazi, and Petra.
- Humans basically live in harmony with nature when conditions are stable, but sudden changes such as acquisition of a new technology or discovery of a new island realizes conditions for species extermination and environmental collapse.
- "While courses in the history of civilization often dwell on kings and barbarian invasions, deforestation and erosion may in the long run have been more important shapers of human history."

Chapter 18
- To get to the Americas, you gotta cross Siberia, then Bering Straight, then coast-to-coast ice sheet of Canada. Humans crossed the latter during an opening 12,000 years ago.
- Those early people are called Clovis people. They reached Tierra del Fuego within 1,000 years.
- Clovis people probably killed all the large mammals except bison.
- The Clovis culture then rapidly changed to the Folsom culture about 11,000 years ago, with different spear tips optimized for bison.

Chapter 19
- Four mechanisms of species extermination: overhunting, species introduction, habitat destruction, and ripple effects.
- "Dismissing the extinction crisis on the grounds that extinction is natural would be just like dismissing genocide on the grounds that death is the natural fate of all humans."
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
761 reviews3,486 followers
February 8, 2020
A confrontation with the often forgotten stations of incarnation.

The author tackles a variety of topics in his first work and shows similarities with human norms in the animal kingdom in state formation, social and sexual behavior, drug use and rudimentary agriculture by using evolutionary development. The origins and history of communication, xenophobia, art, and warfare are also illuminated in detail.

The influence of environmental conditions can be well explained by the differences between bonobos and chimpanzees. Separated by the insurmountable Congo, the peaceful, matriarchal life of the bonobos developed in an environment of sufficient and comfortable living conditions, while the habitat of the hierarchically structured and highly violent chimpanzees was rather barren and inhospitable. Thus, the thesis comes up: Adverse environmental conditions would require stricter rankings and an evolution promoting aggressive behavior. On the other hand, the wealth of resources enables the bonobos to cooperate socially and peacefully without the necessity of aggression.

In contradiction to this, however, there are both other animal species and specialized groups of people, who still treat each other friendly in the most adverse conditions. To start directly and just with the assumption of the necessity of a more brutal mentality would be too far-fetched and simplified. There are for instance the inexplicable, for the own group sometimes even harmful, behavioral patterns of chimpanzees such as senseless violence, incitement, and persecution of individual group members and genocides in conquest campaigns including cannibalism, which all together already gives a pretty good description of modern humans.

Moreover, bonobos are threatened of extinction because they are defenseless against organized animal attacks or rather raids organized by the chimpanzees, which can be described as an animal precursor to genocide. This shows impressively and sadly that the mentality of humankind awoke long before our rise to power.

It is close to impudence how often Diamond has used parts of this book for his other, later published books. Thus, portions of the chapter on the conquerors of the world were included in the book "Guns Germs and Steel" and sections on the meaning of the habitat are found in "Collapse: Why Societies Survive or Perish."

In the case of personal interest, the reading of the detailed descriptions of both works is, in any case, an option if the relatively short explanations of this work have made one curious.
There are few arguments against the preference to blame humans as the most likely cause of past species extinction and as a secondary cause of climate change, given the apparent archaeological evidence. It may well be that the evolution of ice and warm periods in specific regions had stronger influences, but especially in the always relatively moderate climates, this argument does not withstand because of the adaptability of most animals.
It is argued by skeptics that the finding of fossils is a random gamble that does not allow serious estimates of numbers. Only if one finds excessively many bones of extinct animals in the sediment layers coinciding with human migrations, this should be a clear indication.

At the end of the book, Diamond asks people to avoid the always same mistakes and the cycles of expansion, species extinction, and environmental degradation and at least not do more damage. It is a noble concern because it must be incredibly frustrating, especially from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, to observe over decades how habitats, that are still to be explored, are irreversibly destroyed right in front of one's nose.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real-life outside books:

Profile Image for Mehmet.
Author 2 books411 followers
February 2, 2022
Bence Hayvanlardan Tanrılara - Sapiens: İnsan Türünün Kısa Bir Tarihi kitabının pek çok sitede bilinçli ve kasıtlı bir biçimde sürekli indirime gidip raflardan hiç indirilmemesinin en büyük sebeplerinden birisi bu kitabın açık ve net bir kapitalist sistem propagandası içeriyor olmasıdır. İlgili kitaba yazdığım yorumda detaylarını ve gerekçelerini göreceksiniz.

Bu kitap Sapiens'e kıyasla kesinlikle daha kaliteli, daha tutarlı, daha kapsamlı ve bilimsel. Sadece kaynakçası 45 sayfa tutan bu kitabın raflarda sürekli yer almaması, her hafta indirime girmemesi, setler halinde satılmaması, kitapçılarda pohpohlanmaması, insanı yüceltip evrenin merkezine koyan antroposentrik bakış açısıyla yazılmadığından ve sürekli ve yoğun bir kapitalizm propagandası yapmadığındandır.

İlginç detaylardan birisi bu kitapta Sapiens kitabının ortaya sürdüğü fikirlerin hemen hepsinin -ve fazlasının- yer alıyor olması. İnsançocuğunun yayılmacılığı, orman katli, biyolojik evrimi, atom bombalarının korkutucu tehlikesi gibi konular bu kitapta da yer aldığı gibi Sapiens'te yer almayan yahut da yüzeysel olarak geçiştirilen:
-Tek ve çokeşlilik, homoseksüelite,
-Yumurtlama döneminin gizlenilmesi
-Eş seçimi
-Dilin evrimi ve dil ağaçlarının kökenleri
-Savaş ve saldırganlık
-Şempanzeler, bonobolar ve insan davranışlarının diğer hayvanlardaki kökenleri

Sapiens'te ağırlık verilen doğal seçilimde insanın kullandığı gibi, insanı da kullanan buğday gibi bitkilerden bu kitapta bahsedilmiyor. Aksine, Sapiens'te iddia edildiğinin aksine dünyanın her yerinde yalnızca buğday tarımda kullanılmamış. O kadar fazla evcil ve yabani bitki tarımda kullanılmış ki, bir Orta Doğu kökenli yazarın Orta Doğu'nun kullandığı buğdaya bu kadar ağırlık vermesi Sapiens'in bu kitabın yanında sönük kalmasının sebeplerinden bir diğeri.

Ben bu kitabı çok beğendim. Kesinlikle bu tip popüler bilim kitapları arasında okumaktan bu kadar çok keyif aldığım ve açık ara en fazla bilgiyi en az yorucu ve efor isteyecek şekilde aktaran başka bir kitap olmadı. Kitapta soykırımlar bölümünde, iddia edilen Ermeni Soykırımı ile ilgili olarak yayıncının düştüğü "ABD'nin yaptığı soykırımlar gözardı edilmiş kitabın tarafsızlığına gölge düşürmüş" şeklindeki saçma dipnot; yayıncının kitabın devamındaki neredeyse tamamen Batılı ve ABD'lilerin yaptığı soykırımlara dair bölümleri okumadığını gösteriyor. Yayıncının dipnotu son derece anlamsız ve absürd olmuş. Böyle bir dipnot düşmeden önce kitabı dikkatli okumak gerekir.

Rafımda olduğu için son derece mutlu olduğum "iyi ki satın almışım ve okumuşum" dediğim bir kitap olan Üçüncü Şempanze, yazarın diğer kitaplarını da okuma şevkimi artırdı.
Onları okumayı iple çekiyorum.

M. B.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews6,939 followers
November 17, 2014

Original review: The audience called for an encore and Jared obliged. The rewind was not as much fun.


The Homosexual Chimpanzee?

However, this book has some great explanations on human sexuality but does not address one which I was not able to find a satisfactory explanation for, evolutionarily speaking: Homosexuality.

The following is an explanatory excerpt from The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins. I am adding this here for my own reference, but I am sure you will find it damn interesting too.

"Consider human male homosexuality as a more serious example. On the face of it, the existence of a substantial minority of men who prefer sexual relations with their own sex rather than with the opposite sex constitutes a problem for any simple Darwinian theory. The rather discursive title of a privately circulated homosexualist pamphlet, which the author was kind enough to send me, summarizes the problem: 'Why are there "gays" at all? Why hasn't evolution eliminated "gayness" millions of years ago?' The author, incidentally, thinks the problem so important that it seriously undermines the whole Darwinian view of life. Trivers (1974), Wilson (1975, 1978), and especially Weinrich (1976) have considered various versions of the possibility that homosexuals may, at some time in history, have been functionally equivalent to sterile workers, foregoing personal reproduction the better to care for other relatives. I do not find this idea particularly plausible (Ridley & Dawkins in press), certainly no more so than a 'sneaky male' hypothesis. According to this latter idea, homosexuality represents an 'alternative male tactic' for obtaining matings with females. In a society with harem defence by dominant males, a male who is known to be homosexual is more likely to be tolerated by a dominant male than a known heterosexual male, and an otherwise subordinate male may be able, by virtue of this, to obtain clandestine copulations with females.

But I raise the 'sneaky male' hypothesis not as a plausible possibility so much as a way of dramatizing how easy and inconclusive it is to dream up explanations of this kind (Lewontin, 1979, used the same didactic trick in discussing apparent homosexuality in Drosophila). The main point I wish to make is quite different and much more important. It is again the point about how we characterize the phenotypic feature that we are trying to explain.

Homosexuality is, of course, a problem for Darwinians only if there is a genetic component to the difference between homosexual and heterosexual individuals. While the evidence is controversial (Weinrich 1976), let us assume for the sake of argument that this is the case. Now the question arises, what does it mean to say there is a genetic component to the difference, in common parlance that there is a gene (or genes) 'for' homosexuality? It is a fundamental truism, of logic more than of genetics, that the phenotypic 'effect' of a gene is a concept that has meaning only if the context of environmental influences is specified, environment being understood to include all the other genes in the genome. A gene 'for' A in environment X may well turn out to be a gene for B in environment Y. It is simply meaningless to speak of an absolute, context-free, phenotypic effect of a given gene.

Even if there are genes which, in today's environment, produce a homosexual phenotype, this does not mean that in another environment, say that of our Pleistocene ancestors, they would have had the same phenotypic effect. A gene for homosexuality in our modern environment might have been a gene for something utterly different in the Pleistocene. So, we have the possibility of a special kind of 'time-lag effect' here. It may be that the phenotype which we are trying to explain did not even exist in some earlier environment, even though the gene did then exist."

Yes, this is inconclusive, but it does point out some interesting directions in which we can direct our evolutionary reasoning. Don't you think?
Profile Image for Scott.
290 reviews295 followers
November 29, 2016
If you've read Guns, Germs and Steel or Collapse you know what to expect from Jared Diamond- a blizzard of fascinating facts, insights and theories that will spark tens of conversations among your like minded friends and colleagues.

Diamond is a master of spinning hard fact and intriguing theory into readable books, and he does so again in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal,
exploring the link between humans and the beings we call apes (Diamond argues against such a distinction, and posits that humans are simply a third variety of chimpanzee) and the evolution of human bodies, minds and culture.

If you're in the mood for an interesting and informative info-dump you've come to the right book. Diamond explores high and low, illuminating research ranging from comparisons of genitalia size (There's reason why 'Hung like a Gorilla' is not a popular phrase) and the theories behind these differences, the possible reasons behind Homo Sapiens' sudden technological leap beyond our early origins and our cousins the Neanderthals, and finally a discussion of the threats to our existence that Diamond later devoted Collapse to. Diamond weaves his own experiences working with remote tribes in Papua New Guinea into the narrative and I that found this aspect of his storytelling balances the more fact heavy sections well.

I learned a great deal from this book about the evolution of my own body, and the ways that the human form could indicate social and behavioral traits to a neutral observer (Diamond uses the example of Aliens viewing our species for the first time). Diamond makes these learnings both accessible and interesting and I experienced a number of out-loud-wow-science exclamation moments while reading this book.

If you're at all interested in evolutionary theory and our genetic proximity to our forest-dwelling relatives, you should read this book. If you're still uncertain that we're related to chimpanzees and gorillas, you too, should read it (I guarantee you'll be convinced we should have been inviting Bonzo and Harambe to our family barbecues). If you're really, really certain we aren't related to 'apes' and you aren't interested in being convinced otherwise.... well, I suspect you aren't browsing this section of the library/bookstore anyway.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,517 followers
January 12, 2013
This is a wonderful book by a great author. In fact, I prefer this book to the other books that I've read by Jared Diamond. It is entertaining, informative, and every page is interesting. The book covers a vast range of topics, such as how are humans qualitatively different from other animals, why do men do stupid things to impress women, why do people practice adultery, why do humans practice genocide, how did languages evolve, why do some people become addicted to drugs, why do humans produce art, and why do humans age. The book ends with the ecological harm humans have done to the planet (not just recently, but in ancient times as well), and the extinctions of species that we cause. Diamond shows how none of these activities are unique to humans; each activity has some analog in animal behavior, as well.

Like Diamond's other books, there is plenty of speculation here. He makes sweeping generalizations that are not always held up by documented facts. But Diamond's enthusiasm rings loud and clear, and his speculations always sound reasonable, at least to me.
Profile Image for SJ Loria.
445 reviews75 followers
May 19, 2011
Funny that I read this book in Mexico, a country where more people believe in creation than evolution. For the record, I think we evolved from apes. For the record, that doesn't bother me in the least.

I am going to do two things, first, I will talk about what I learned from this book, secondly I am going to go on a rant about anthropology. While this book was interesting, there were parts where the author stepped far beyond his area of expertise, leading to some very weak chapters. Further, this was written almost 20 years ago, and it is simply amazing how quickly scientific knowledge has advanced. Some parts were outdated, which I found remarkable. Scientific facts seem to have a very quick expiration date.

This book details defining characters of human society - symbolic language, art, agriculture, war, drug abuse and environmental destruction - and presents our evolutionary precursors to these traits. He covers some excellently, and others with not as much conviction. He begins by discussing the unique aspects of the human body both genetically and our life cycle. This part was quite interesting. I learned that we share a whopping 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

It was interesting to see how our prolonged life cycle and the unique characteristic of females menopause has influenced human life. Those two things allowed us to transmit lots of information (because old folks would be the story tellers and survival experts when shit hit the fan) and allowed women to also live a bit after having children. It's quite dangerous to have children, let us recall. So menopause was a great thing for women, evolutionarily speaking. Interesting to learn that genetic changes took thousands of years to develop, but once they developed than cultural evolution exploded and since has outpaced biological evolution. Evolution slowly brought us to the place where we had the tools to really start running with it.

One thing that stands out from this book is that a large part of our progress was heavily dependant on the environment and our genes. Rarely do we stop and thank water for being there, or acknowledge how certain geographical features shaped us as humans. Perhaps we should do this more often.

At points, the author stepped outside of his area of expertise to strengthen his argument via other disciplines. I admire the approach and feel it's best to cover one subject through as many routes of knowledge as possible. The tricky thing is, you just have to make good arguments in those other fields. There were two chapters which I shook my head more often than I nodded it, they covered art and astronomy.

The author, in discussing what makes humans unique tries to find precedent in other animals as to how this evolved in humans. Art proves tricky. Art, which I would define as the soul expressing itself in reality, is a uniquely human endeavor. Diamond makes the claim that chimpanzees and elephants have produced art in captivity. He quotes an abstract expressionist painter and critic and a psychologist as his authorities. However, the issue is that other animal art is not a spontaneous creation. They were provided the tools in captivity, it's much more likely that they pick up paintbrush and smoosh paint to gain the approval of their handlers and earn extra attention than it is an undeniable expression of their soul. Also, the category of "art" that Diamond holds up as his "see, they can produce art" in fact defines itself as "anti-figurative aesthetic," meaning art that tries to look like nothing in order to symbolize emotion. So yes, chimps splashing paint fits into this very specific category, but that doesn't make it art outside of that interpretation. Show me more realistic art, art that holds the mirror to reality with a bit more clarity and then show me another animal spontaneously producing that, then we'll talk. This author simply does not understand art, which is fine, but which also means you should steer far clear of it while making a case.

However, the chapter that blew my mind more than any other was one chapter on our place within the universe. This chapter came from left field, was almost entirely speculative and had very little to do with the central thesis. I have no idea why the editor didn't cut it. Suddenly he begins to explain the immense size of the universe, accurately. Then he suddenly declares that there are no planets that can support life (incorrect), we're the only one with life (speculative), period. I was shocked, and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt only because we have learned very much about the abundance of habitable planets in the universe since 1992. That is the only thing that can possible explain this chapter, because after factually stating how immense the universe is, he then is completely incorrect scientifically about the abundance of planets and finally 100% speculative about there being no other life. The crappy part is he tries to present it all as factual, when in reality just his first stand of evidence was. Ugh. What the hell.

Now, time to rant, this book embodied a perspective on life that I am coming to disdain - anthropology, or 21st century intellectualized racial awwwing at the primitive people who are just so interesting! Primitive people make great facebook photo albums. Let me explain. The author did a lot of research on New Guinea, and talks extensively about it. Due to the terrain, there were many different societies who lived close to one another but remained isolated. Each pocked was a unique culture, with unique traditions and all that. For example, apparently round them parts the cool thing to do is wear basically a codpeice or penis stick. Some tribes painted them yellow, some green, some had flowers, some feathers, dudes had multiple and some were special occasion ones, etc. You getting the picture (if so what color is your penis stick, haha)? Lots of penis sticks, no shoes, native instruments, so cute right? None of the influence from evil modern society and satan incarnate aka the white man. Only within the last 40 years or so did these tribes begin to modernize, trade, get modern goods and all.

The author fondly recalls one of his strolls through the jungle back in the good old days where he came up to a tribe banging on drums and they were so amazed to see him, a white man. About 20 years later he goes back to visit the tribe, with I'm sure his notebooks to do "observations" on them, fancy camera, maybe a computer, etc and to his horror hears them listening to pop music and sees a few wearing Reeboks. Gasp, they were so much cuter, so much more useful to the purpose of my research paper, when they didn't have Reeboks.

What I find appalling about this perspective is it completely ignores the desires of the native people and it ignores the benefits that one is able to obtain from modern society. The very system that allowed the author to think in this way, be educated, and write a book is the one he wants to hold back from cultures because he would rather see the variety of penis ornaments. What if these people want to be modernized? Is it such a horrible thing that they learn about medicine and their infant mortality rate plummets? Is it a bad thing that their life expectancy is over 40 now? What if they want to wear Nikes? Is it such a bad thing to see a world map, understand it's a big place, learn that there are about 7 billion other humans out there?

What I simply do not understand about the "awww, look at and study the primitive people" perspective is the lack of consideration for the desires, wishes, or well being of the culture in question. It's like they feel guilty about being white and going to good prep schools. So they'll write academic papers about those cute jungle people, and take photos and all that, but it's like they want that to remain the way it is. Don't modernize, I just got grant money to study you! It's like their vacation from reality, and I think it's frankly insulting to the people being photographed and studied as if they were animals.

Breathe. Anyway, I thought this book was going to be excellent, instead it was average. Perhaps a new edition would really go a long way in improving it. I learned some interesting statistics, but am not very inspired to continue reading Diamond.

It has also proved possible to work out a calibration between genetic distance and elapsed time, and thereby get an approximate answer to the question of when we and chimps split apart from our common ancestor. That turns out to be somewhere around seven million years ago, give or take a few million years. 12

If our ethical code makes a purely arbitrary distinction between humans and all other species, then we have a code based on naked selfishness devoid of any higher principle. If our code instead makes distinctions based on our superior intelligence, social relationships, and capacity for feeling pain, then it becomes difficult to defend an all or nothing code that draws a line between all humans and all animals. 30

The emergence of Homo sapiens illustrates the paradox discussed in the previous chapter; that our rise to humanity was not directly proportional to the changes in our genes. 37

Those of us accustomed to getting our information from the printed page or television will find it hard to appreciate how important even just one or two old people are in a preliterate society...one such person in a preliterate society can thus spell the difference between death and survival for the whole society. 50

Cro-Manon Neanderthal transition was a harbinger of what was to come, when the victors' descendants began squabbling among themselves. It may at first seem paradoxical that Cro-Magnons prevailed over the more muscular Neanderthals, but weaponry rather than strength would have been decisive. Similarly, it's not gorillas that are now threatening to exterminate humans in central Africa, but vice versa. People with huge muscles require lots of food, and they thereby gain no advantage if slimmer, smarter people can use tools to do the same work. 52

Until the great leap forward, human culture had developed at a snail's pace for millions of years. that pace was dictated by the slow pace of genetic change. After the leap, cultural development no longer depended on genetic change. Despite negligible changes in our anatomy, there has been far more cultural evolution in the past forty thousand years than in the millions of years before. 56

Our mean duration of coitus (about four minutes for Americans) is much longer than for gorillas (one minute), pygmy chimps (fifteen seconds), or common chimps (seven seconds), but shorter than for orangutans (fifteen minutes) and lightning fast compared to the twelve hour long copulations of marsupial mice. 75

In these days of growing human over population, one of the most ironic tragedies is the catholic church's claim that human copulation has conception as its natural purpose, and that the rhythm method is the only proper means of birth control. The rhythm method would be terrific for gorillas and most other mammal species, but not for us. In no species besides humans has the purpose of copulation become so unrelated to conception, or the rhythm method so unsuited for contraception. 78

How does one decide whether recognizably distinct animal populations from different localities constitute different species, or belong instead to the same special and just constitute different races (also known as subspecies)?...The distinction is based on interbreeding under normal circumstances,: members of the same species may interbreed normally if given the opportunity, while members of different species don't. 112

The longer life span of modern humans as compared to that of apes does not rest only on cultural adaptations, such as tools to acquire food and deter predators. It also rests on the biological advantage of menopause and increased investment in self-repair. Whether those biological adaptations developed especially at the time of the great leap forward or earlier, they rank among the life-history changes that permitted the rise of the third chimpanzee to humanity. 135

Up to half the words in typical human speech are purely grammatical items, with no referent that one can point to. 153

Most of today's leading infectious diseases and parasites of mankind could not become established until after the transition to agriculture. These killers persist only in societies of crowded, malnourished, sedentary people constantly reinfected by each other and by their own sewage. 187

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming brought another curse to humanity:class divisions. 187

[Discussing dangerous behaviors, such as smoking or tattoos] Males of many more species have bright colors, loud songs, or conspicuous displays that attract predators. Why should a male advertise such an impediment, and why should a female like it? Zahavi's theory goes to the heart of this paradox. According to his theory, those deleterious structures and behaviors constitute valid indicators that the animal is being honest in its claim of superiority, precisely because those traits themselves impose handicaps. 197

Continental differences in level of civilization arose from geography's effect on the development of our cultural hallmarks, not from human genetics. Continents differed in the resources on which civilization depended - especially in the wild animal and plan species that proved useful for domestication. 236

Plants and animals spread quickly and easily within a climate zone to which they've already adapted. To spread out of this zone, they have to develop new varieties with different climate tolerances. A glance at the map of the old world shows how species could shift long distances without encountering a change of climate. 245

These calculations, which belong to a science called glottochronology ( = chronology of languages), yield the rule of thumb that languages replace about 20 percent of their basic vocabulary every one thousand years. 262

The steppe itself reaches its western limit in the plains of Hungary. That's where all subsequent steppe invaders of Europe, like the Mongols, stopped. To spread further, steppe society had to adopt to the forested landscape of western Europe - by adopting intense agricultural or by taking over existing European societies and hybridizing with their peoples. Most of the genes of the resulting hybrid societies may have been the genes of old europe. 271

Chimpanzee behavior suggests that a major reason for our human hallmark of group living was defense against other human groups, especially once we acquired weapons and a large enough brain to plan ambushes. If this reasoning is correct, then anthropologist's traditional emphasis on "man the hunter" as the driving force of human evolution might be valid after all - with the difference that we ourselves were our own prey as well as the predator that forced us into group living. 294

Our power threatens our own existence. 311
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,024 followers
May 25, 2020
Diamond packs a lot of interesting information into this book & it flows well, but it's old (1992) so a lot of his information is outdated. Worse, his conclusions shouldn't be trusted. In several cases, I knew enough about the subject to catch him completely misunderstanding it & making his points based on cherry-picked data. That's bad science which he hides fairly well behind parts of conflicting views. Read this only for the interesting trivia (much of which is repetitive) but don't be swayed by his conclusions except perhaps in his actual fields which are geography & anthropology, I think.

Well narrated & interesting, but since I can't trust him, I can't give this a high mark. That's a shame. I'll put more comments after the various sections.

Table of Contents

Diamond hit a sore spot with me almost immediately when he wrote "When Darwin intimated in 1859 that we had evolved from apes... I am so sick of reading & hearing that. Darwin never wrote or intimated any such thing! He wrote that we must have had a common ancestor. That's a huge difference & if someone doesn't understand it, everything that follows is drivel. Sigh. I know Diamond does, though. He gets on with the basic premise that we're actually just one of several hominid species & aren't as genetically distant from chimps as the white-eyed & red-eyed vireos are from each other. We share much with other mammals & what really makes us unique is our ability to communicate complex thoughts & our inventiveness.

Part 1 Just Another Species of Big Mammal
1 A Tale of Three Chimps
2 The Great Leap Forward

Diamond makes a great case for us just being another mammal from a biological perspective based on differences in DNA & early habits. He then shows how much we differ from other hominids including Neanderthals, but that also shows the age of this book. He sets an interesting lens to look through. He set my teeth on edge by using 'theory' rather than 'hypothesis'. If he's going to argue with science, he should be using the correct terms.

Part 2 An Animal with a Strange Life Cycle
3 The Evolution of Human Sexuality
4 The Science of Adultery
5 How We Pick Our Mates and Sex Partners
6 Sexual Selection, and the Origin of Human Races
7 Why Do We Grow Old and Die?

All really interesting, but I think he left out a lot to make his point. I'm not well enough informed to really pin down most of it. It just felt that way until I noticed that he was strictly arguing phenotypic evolution rather than the selfish gene theory. Again, lacking updated data like the genetic studies of Jews which was doing a wonderful job tracing their migrations until they cut off access when it was found that they, like the rest of us, have about a 15% adultery rate. Since they inherit through the paternal line, this was a big deal.

Part 3 Uniquely Human
8 Bridges to Human Language
9 Animal Origins of Art
10 Agriculture's Mixed Blessings
11 Why Do We Smoke, Drink, and Use Dangerous Drugs?
12 Alone in a Crowded Universe

Again, a lot of interesting stuff until the last chapter which was a train wreck. The only more idiotic treatment of the search for extraterrestrial life that I've ever heard has come from Young Earth Creationists & he barely cleared their low bar. For instance, he says we sent a message to another galaxy several decades ago & leaves the impression we should expect an answer. M13 is 21,000 light years away, so our message couldn't reach them until 23,000AD, but he never mentions that awkward fact. Instead, he tries to overwhelm the reality with a lot of other interesting facts, but all are very incomplete & twisted. The impression I've had that he's cherry-picking to make his points is confirmed. Yuck. He completely destroyed any remaining credibility he had.

Part 4 World Conquerors
13 The Last First Contacts
14 Accidental Conquerors
15 Horses, Hittites, and History
16 In Black and White

More about language than I would have expected, but I found it interesting. Much is a synopsis of his Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies which was great. He's quite pessimistic about us, even writing at one point something about 'modern nuclear warfare' leaving the impression we've dropped nuclear bombs fairly often while I'm shocked that only 2 have ever been deployed. That we made it through the Cold War & MAD days without one being being set off is incredibly hopeful, IMO.

The last chapter is primarily about genocide & he managed to bore me through sheer repetition of a handful of examples. There are plenty & he despairs of our race while not providing any actual numbers. We're changing fast & less people are dying from violence or most other causes but he's a pessimist. For instance, in 2012 (20 years after this book was published.) the total number of deaths worldwide were less than those in 1 battle of WWI.

Part 5 Reversing Our Progress Overnight
17 The Golden Age That Never Was
18 Blitzkrieg and Thanksgiving in the New World
19 The Second Cloud

He's right, we've never lived in harmony with nature when we had the power to take what we wanted. According to him, the first men on this continent wiped out almost all the large mammals & spread amazingly fast, but this book is 28 years old, so he's using 15,000-11,000 years ago for our invasion of the Americas. Lately I've read several articles that push that a lot earlier, probably at least twice as long ago which doesn't help his argument, although I haven't read a better one for the large mammal extermination. The same happened in Australia, too.

Epilogue: Nothing Learned, and Everything Forgotten?
Very pessimistic & he doesn't pay enough direct attention to economics. He writes We do not need novel, still-to-be invented technologies to solve our problems. We just need more governments to do many more of the same obvious things that some governments are already doing in some cases.

Again, I don't entirely agree. Energy makes the world go round & that means economics, too. A LOT of problems would be solved if we had something that produced portable, high power as the internal combustion engine does. Alternative energies are fine, but they're clunky & intermittent, so a better battery (Think Heinlein's Sun Stones.) would also help a lot. He also doesn't mention GMO crops to minimize climate change, invasive & ever adapting pests. Of course, this book was written before they became a big deal.

All in all, not a terrible read, but it was repetitive, old, & lacking depth in many areas. Very well narrated. I wouldn't bother reading it as there are many other books out there, but it's not a complete waste of time. Just don't drink his Kool Aid.
Profile Image for Stuart.
707 reviews262 followers
May 3, 2020
Having been on a evolutionary biology and history trip of late, I couldn't resist revisiting this 1991 classic by Jared Diamond. It is a good introduction to his favorite subjects that get fuller treatment in Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse.

Part One (Just Another Species of Big Mammal) focuses on the evolutions of primates and the split between apes and monkeys and the further splits down the line between gorillas, chimpanzees, and finally homo habilus, homo erectus, and homo sapiens. This is the strongest part of the book, discussing the incredibly similar genome between chimpanzees and humans, which share 98% of their DNA. It posits that the development of language triggered the Great Leap Forward that gave homo sapiens the edge against the larger, stronger Neanderthals in the struggle for survival, especially in their ability to collaborate in hunting and communicate complex plans and concepts.

Part Two (An Animal With a Strange Life Cycle) discusses the sexual behavior of humans from an evolutionary perspective. It dives into the previously taboo subject of the potential evolutionary rationale for adultery, as a means for males to spread their genes as far as possibly, while on the flip side women (mothers) seek a stable mate to provide sustenance for themselves and their children in a monogamous relationship, and the inevitable friction this causes in modern couples. It also discusses the seeming evolutionary disadvantages of humans vs other animals: female menopause, having only 1-2 babies at a time and only after reaching the teenage years, and living beyond a reproductive age. The answers are thought-provoking and well extrapolated.

Part Three (Uniquely Human) discusses the development of human language; the animal origins of art and its function in modern humans; the mixed blessings of adopting a sedentary, agrarian lifestyle rather than being roving hunter-gatherers; why human beings exhibit the seemingly self-destructive behavior of smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs; and how likely we are to be alone in the universe. The section on the agriculture vs hunter-gathering is fascinating and gets much more detailed treatment in Guns, Germs & Steel.

Part Four (World Conquerors) is one of the most interesting sections, detailing the influence of environmental factors in the different rates of technological development among different cultures on different continents, which was the centerpiece of Guns, Germs & Steel. Here he discusses how the domestication of native edible grains and animals such as horses, pigs, cows, and sheep provided the nutrition and energy for Eurasian peoples to conquer and dominate other societies that lacked advanced weapons like guns and cannons, lacked horses to form cavalry, which afforded a massive advantage in warfare, and also the proximity to domesticated animals also exposed Eurasians to myriad animal diseases that then allowed them to develop immunities that New World people lacked, leading to disastrous epidemics after contact. This section also details the spread and dominance of Indo-European languages over other languages, which reflected the population movements over the past few millennia.

It also contains one of the most disturbing chapters in modern human history, the systematic extermination of the aboriginal blacks of Tasmania by Australian white settlers, and the various religious and cultural superiority beliefs that allowed them to justify genocide. The actual excuses provided for hunting down and killing natives that were viewed as barely human is pretty stomach-turning from a modern perspective, but is detailed without holding back. He then expands on the long and repeated ethnic genocides in human history during the 1492-1900 and 1900-1950 periods. I think this should be required study for high school or university students to remind us all the atrocities humans are capable of, and why we need to curb our worst instincts to demonize and dehumanize “others”.

Part Five (Reversing Our Progress Overnight) is another sobering chapter that is a precursor to his book Collapse. Diamond details in lucid and unblinking details the numerous waves of extinctions that have happened on the Earth over many eras including the dinosaurs, and then the waves of extinctions directly caused by the explosion in global human population and our destruction of animal habitats and spread across the planet. It also talks about our ability to destroy ourselves overnight via nuclear holocaust, and how on our present path we are likely to exhaust our resources and multiply till the point of ecological collapse. It’s pretty disturbing reading, but very convincing as well. Again, if all students could read this book, they would have a greater sense of urgency that we need to change the path of human civilization if we want to avoid disaster and collapse.

Recommended reading for evolutionary biology and historical anthropology:
1. The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The Ancestor's Tale, The Greatest Show on Earth - Richard Dawkins
2. The Third Chimpanzee, Guns, Germs, and Steel - Jared Diamond
3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind - Yuval Noah Harari
4. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors - Nicholas Wade
5. The Human Instinct - Kenneth R. Miller
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,209 reviews548 followers
November 14, 2021
I read this the first time more than 25 years ago. At least, possibly more time ago even than that.

Then it was a 4 star read going on 4.5 stars. It just isn't anymore. Some parts of it are excellent but dated. Some parts are beyond dated- they no longer are considered viable theory. Some sections are pure hogwash, although stated in a strongly logical and respectful tone. This is primarily his whole universe "picture" to life and intelligent life, in particular. The issue of compatible numbers of environments posit that could produce life outside of our solar system. That's just plain wrong, IMHO. The probabilities figures on that have been turned upside down since this book was published.

Most of the early homo species stuff is 4 or 4.5 stars. But this is a field that has been tremendously altered by DNA and other particular physical forensics and anthropology studies of forms and chemical sciences in the last 10 to 15 years, IMHO.

Also there is another wider tangent he takes here that is likable to read, but most probably is not numerically or nuance width assumption correct. He knows a lot, don't get me wrong. He is a superb observer and seeking, an excellent scientist. But he also clearly did not know all he did not know when he wrote this. His picture was actually too narrow to make assumptions as wide to the outcomes he has here, IMHO.

But it's really worth a read if you never understood early homo forms or had not seen/understood where that field was when earlier tracking homo progressions in geographic movement was base. And especially a call out for the excellent parsing of homo sapiens women's menopause development appears here. That's a particular phase of life that rarely, rarely exhibits in any animal or mammal life form and he has a superb chapter here about evolution favor for this feature.
Profile Image for Ray.
566 reviews112 followers
July 8, 2019
We are all 98% chimp. By that I mean that we share 98% of our genes with our closest animal ancestors. Diamond patiently explains what that means and explores what makes us human.

People say that humanity is differentiated by the use of tools and language, but also by murder and genocide. Actually the animal kingdom has examples of rudimentary tools, complex language, murder and genocide. Perhaps it is the degree to which we indulge that makes us human - no bonobo or aardvaark has a red button where, by pushing it, they could obliterate whole cities.

No penguin or gazelle lives in as diverse a range of habitats as humanity, nor do they bend nature to its will in quite the same way as we do.

So what does make us human. Diamond makes the case that language of increasing complexity and abstractness (this is a word?) is the prime suspect.

An interesting book, and thought provoking. I marked it down because I did not find this as compelling as the other books I have read by him. Perhaps this is because he invokes many of the same themes as other books, and I have lost the thrill of the new as far as Diamond is concerned.

By bizarre coincidence Diamond was on Desert Island Disks on BBC R4 on Friday. Must catch up with this.
Profile Image for James.
Author 8 books87 followers
February 14, 2014
Excellent. I'm giving it four stars instead of five only because from the vantage of 2014 its age shows, mainly in the absence of some information learned since it was written about the Neanderthals and the similar but then-unknown Denisovan people - specifically, the presence of small amounts of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in the modern human gene pool - and in the absence of that knowledge, the author makes some assumptions about our history with those other peoples that are incomplete at best; but the book is impressive in its accurate anticipation of the situations of the present and probable future.

The title is based on our very close genetic links with the two species normally called chimpanzees, i.e. the 'common' chimp and what Diamond calls the pigmy chimp, normally referred to now as the bonobo. Any other species as closely related to those two as we are would be recognized as simply a third type of chimpanzee by naturalists, hence the title.

But this book is not only about our species, but about the environments that have shaped us and how we in turn began shaping the rest of the natural world, usually unintentionally but no less powerfully, once our numbers and technology made that possible, starting with humankind's probable role in the mass extinctions of large animals wherever we showed up and continuing through today's problems of climate change, overfishing and -hunting, introduction of invasive species, and habitat encroachment. The threat of nuclear war is in there, but Diamond accurately predicted that it would become less likely as the catastrophic consequences of environmental devastation grew more visible and irreversible.

Informative, thought-provoking, often funny - I recommend this strongly to anyone interested in human history and prehistory and our relationships with the places and the other life forms on our planet.
Profile Image for Gendou.
581 reviews255 followers
February 4, 2015
Jared Diamond is a mostly sensible anthropologist. However, he's a lousy evolutionary biologist.

For example, he presents multiple theories of the reason for homo sapiens concealed ovulation. These are presented with false balance i.e. he doesn't share the consensus view, or the quality (and lack thereof) for each theory. Some have laughably low plausibility, in my opinion. He should have done the research and presented the reader with the likely truth, not a list of mostly bad ideas. Worst of all, he presents issues of natural and sexual selection from the species and even the group point of view. Group selection isn't a thing. Individual selection isn't a thing. Gene selection is the only thing. Come on, man! Read some Dawkins! There's yet more false balance and lack of scientific scruples when discussing skin pigmentation. And race. And aging.

He also has this cooky theory that drug and alcohol addiction is a sort of "status symbol" of fitness gone amok. I think this is bogus. Heroin isn't sexy. Alcohol and tobacco can be sexy when they make you look older (and thus allowed to legally buy it). But drug addiction didn't evolve in humans. All animal that has a basal-ganglia-to-limbic loop can become addicted. Our propensity to become drug and alcohol addicted stems only from our access to drugs and alcohol.

While I'm picking knits, he claims that the ancient practice of taking an alcoholic beverage as enema would bypass the liver. It actually bypasses the stomach, wherein enzymes would begin to break down the alcohol. Ethanol delivered into the blood stream via the lower gastrointestinal tract goes strait into the blood but does eventually arrive at the liver. Safe to say, it's not advised.

Another thing Diamond gets wrong is SETI. For some reason, hopefully not a personal one, he insists on calling the Drake equation the "Greene Bank Formula" which nobody else does. Diamond seems perplexed by the question, where are all the flying saucers? This is essentially the Fermi Paradox. The answer Drake himself gave me when I posed the question to him at a SETI convention in 2011 is that space travel is expensive. ET isn't going to visit us in a flying saucer. They'll send robotic probes, and maybe even colonize multiple star systems. But they won't waste time abducting cows. Diamond doesn't adequately illustrate the degree to which we've barely started looking for SETI signals. He claims we've looked, but the silence is deafening. This is just wrong. We've not looked at a millionth of the stars in the milky way at all, and looked at no single star for longer than a year. SETI will take immense patience.

He uses the wood pecker to make some point about how convergent evolution may not be universal, implying that radio capable civilizations might be super duper rare. This is bogus. Convergent evolution is not intimidate. But you better believe that a hundred million years from now, something will be picking bugs out of trees. Maybe descendants of birds. Maybe not. But something will fill the niche.

Diamond dedicates the last chapter to anthropogenic mass extinction without using the word "Holocene", which I found strange. He suggests that humans might be dead men walking, that we're all doomed like the Easter Island civilization. But Easter Island had people on it when it was re-discovered. Small population, but humans didn't go extinct on Easter Island. I think Diamond plays the doom and gloom card to heavily. There is plenty to say about how we can conserve biodiversity. He talks about some conservation efforts in Indonesia. But it's clear he's playing the Silent Spring card. Probably a great political tool, just not very skeptical.
1,178 reviews13 followers
March 17, 2011
Jared Diamond should be required reading. He has influenced my view of humanity and history more than probably anyone except maybe a history professor in college, where I was a history minor. No, I think I Diamond has influenced me more.

I stumbled across a 3 part series on PBS based on Guns, Germs and Steel a couple of years ago and was floored. I bought and read the book immediately and was even more blown away. Since then I have read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Why is Sex Fun. Both of them were also mind-blowing and insightful.

The Third Chimpanzee was Diamond’s first book and it really lays the groundwork for his three following. In fact 3C read a bit like an abridged version of the other three books combined. But that is not to say it did not contain things the other books didn’t….or at least that I don’t remember. The next time I recommend Diamond to a friend, I think I will recommend 3C because it is a great overview of his works.

I was particularly struck by the chapters on language, both animal languages that are only beginning to be unraveled, as well as the information on human languages.

The book also contains a striking chapter about genocide. It was a tough chapter to read and teetered on the edge of being overwhelmingly depressing to me. But it is something that can’t be ignored. Humans have a long history of killing each other on a massive scale. If humanity is going to change how we act in the future, we can’t gloss over the past because it demonstrates human tendencies.

Besides his incredible insight, I appreciate Diamond for a number of other reasons. First off I find his writing reachable. Although he often talks about some very complex and specific things, he does a brilliant job of making it understandable to a layperson. He also pulls no punches; he seems to have a very realistic view of humanity, good and bad. He is quick to point out inconsistencies, discrimination and arrogance, including his own. He preaches without ever feeling preachy. He also has a fun sense of humor and appreciates irony as it regularly occurs in life.

I would be dumber and my life less full if I had not discovered Jared Diamond. And much to my joy he has a new book coming out in mere weeks!
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,247 reviews114 followers
May 21, 2010
I've read Diamond's Collapse and Guns, Germs and Steel and had never heard of this book before, so when I saw it at the bookstore I picked it up because I thought it was his new book. It wasn't. It was his first book, and it shows. This is basically a primer for the rest of his books, since all his other books are expansions of chapters/sections in this one. Why is Sex Fun? is Chapter 3, Guns, Germs and Steel is Part 4 and Collapse is Part 5.

My problem with this book, besides the fact that I'd read some of it before, was that while most of his arguments were interesting, some weren't convincing. He sometimes kinda relied on personal anecdotes--mostly from his New Guinea friends--and broad generalizations instead of facts. The chapter I had the biggest issue with was "Why Do We Smoke, Drink, and Use Drugs?" His answer is: because, like peacocks' tails and other seemingly useless/potentially dangerous displays, it shows others that I can have/do this crap and still survive, so obviously there's enough awesome about me that it outweighs this stupid thing I do, so you don't want to mess with me if you're a predator/you should want to mate with me if you are a female. He states that "Now, let's test my theory...if it's valid, [it:] should apply to other societies as well." So he brings up this one guy he knows in Indonesia who drinks kerosene as a test of strength. Okay...and that proves your theory how exactly? To be fair, he also mentions Native American tribes that used drug enemas, but still. He doesn't address other possible factors, such as the benefits people feel they get out of drugs and alocohol (mood boosts/escapism/whatever) or their addictive nature. That entire chapter seemed like a 10th grade paper: lots of suppositions, little to concretly back it up.

The book did bring up ideas I'd never thought about before, and made me feel less special as a human being, but I'd still say just read Diamond's later, better books and skip this one.
Profile Image for Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly.
755 reviews331 followers
August 16, 2021
Presently, there are: 1. the pygmy chimpanzees of Zaire; 2. the chimpanzees of the rest of tropical Africa; and 3. us, “humans.” We are the third chimpanzee. We share 98.4% of our genes with the first two kinds of chimpanzees. This is because all these three chimpanzees had evolved, in millions of years, from a common ancestor, most likely a fascinating tree-dwelling creature some of whose many descendants had gone extinct but some left the trees, learned to walk in their two feet. and eventually became us.

I had imagined, while reading this book, if we managed to evolve in the same manner that we are now except the gait and posture so that we’ll be lumbering about like our surviving chimp cousins. Had that been the case, Adidas and Nike would not only have a footwear line, but a handwear line as well, probably glove-like, to protect our hands as they touch the ground or grasp things as we climb or hang about. Fashion would of course be very much different too. No plunging necklines for women as their breasts could easily pop out in a chimp-like locomotion. Architecture would not also be the same. Maybe there’d be no stairs in buildings but trellises and rope which we can us going up and down or sideways.

But these may not have been possible, really. It is said that our ability to walk upright on two feet, which freed our hands to make and use tools, greatly contributed to the enlargement of our brains—spelling the difference now between us and the present chimpanzees.

Nevertheless, we are still animals. This explains practically all our behaviour from the altruistic to the destructve. We cannot escape our true, lowly past.
Profile Image for Sheng Peng.
150 reviews18 followers
March 13, 2018
I will show below why I think Jared doesn't know what he is talking about, why he is an abysmal science writer, and why he is as much of a drama queen as Gladwell.

Firstly, most people would put this book on the "evolutionary biology" shelf. So Jared better know something about evolution and biology. He does. But not nearly enough. For example, I noticed at least five times where he had used group selection, by which a gene propagates because it's beneficial to the group rather than to the individual, to explain some evolved traits. It's quite wrong. I get it that it's easy to fall for this unless being constantly on the guard. But he fell for it more than five times. Maybe he didn't get it how natural selection really works after all. Considering the book was published in the 90s, when group theory had been out of favor for decades and was becoming pretty much as laughable as Lamarckism. Oh Jared, quo vadis?

Secondly, he is a really annoying smart alec. It was the worst when he used Zahavi's handicap principle to explain drug addictions of people. The theory could work very well for why peacocks have big showy tails and male deers have big antlers. But it's really stretching to say that people are showing off their health when doing hard drugs. When I was reading it, page after page, I was like this was so implausible there's no way he actually believed what he wrote. And lo and behold, he proved me correct himself! On the last page of that not so short of a chapter, he admitted his explanations didn't really work for our case and that's actually what made us uniquely human. Then why have you just wasted dozens of good pages on this nonsense. This is a ridiculous level of pedantry. To have the balls to waste the reader's time and trees like this on an irrelevant theory that obviously does not explain the question proposed. He devoted about 90% of the chapter to this non-answer.

And later, he literally flipped out when listing the risks we were running when beaming radio signals to potential alien overlords out there. I think it's a valid concern and caution is warranted. But I don't think the concern could only be conveyed to the reader by showing your lid literally flying off as you are tying and head banging on desk and all. Did you forget to take your pills again, Jared?

Obviously, this is all my opinion, but I judge Jared to be a frivolous pulp science writer. Avoid if you want true intellectual stimulation.
Profile Image for Ericka Clou.
2,045 reviews157 followers
October 10, 2019
This book was both very interesting and entertaining. It precedes Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel. It ties in pretty well with some other books I've recently read including The Sixth Extinction and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and even Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History.

It's a little out-of-date. For example, our ancestor Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals co-existed approximately 100,000 years ago. New research shows that many modern humans contain a little Neanderthal DNA showing that there was interbreeding, whereas Diamond was pretty sure that there was basically no interbreeding.

The title of this book comes from the fact that chimpanzees and pygmy chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than chimps are to gorillas. Thus, especially from the perspective of chimps, humans are a third chimp.

Fun topics include the emergence of language in humans, male penis and testes size, sexual selection, adultery, racial variation due to sexual selection not natural selection, aging, menopause as an adaptive solution to childbirth, the arts, agriculture and animal domestication, drug use, the question of intelligent alien life, genocide, and extinction. Whoo. It didn't always feel like it was well-organized or related but it was all very interesting.

Personally, I don't think the menopause explanation makes a lot of sense. It seems like if you weren't well-suited to give birth to your partner's baby, a first or second birth would kill you. At the rate of a baby every 4 years from ages 16-40, you'd be up to 6 births before menopause. Instead, menopause seems to make grandmothers more available to tend to their grandchildren instead of having more babies of their own (think prehistoric Michelle Duggars).
Profile Image for Bart Everson.
Author 4 books31 followers
March 18, 2011
I first became aware of Jared Diamond while having lunch in Tampere in the summer of 2001. I was there in Finland for a conference, and one of my lunch companions was raving about Guns, Germs, and Steel. A quick glance at other reviews indicates that's his most revered book; it seems to be an expansion of a single chapter in The Third Chimpanzee. Indeed many if not all of his subsequent books seem to expand on themes he first addressed here. That says a lot about the scope and ambition of Third Chimpanzee.

I was drawn to this book because of its focus on human origins. This is a subject about which I knew little, and I learned plenty here, which was gratifying. But I was surprised by how much more I found here, everything from ruminations on extraterrestrial life to an examination of genocide.

Diamond takes aim at the biggest questions of human existence, and attempts to explicate them with passion and honesty. Occasionally his reach exceeds his grasp, occasionally he doesn't seem to deliver the goods he promises — but only very occasionally. And honestly, if he's half-right about half the issues he takes on, it's still an impressive effort. I found his outlining of the questions at least as valuable as the answers he provides.

Utterly fascinating.
Profile Image for Mümin.
66 reviews38 followers
September 7, 2020
Kitabın çerçevesi daha adından başlayarak sağlam oturtulmuş. Dünya üzerindeki diğer canlılardan gerçekten farklı mıyız? Bu sorunun peşine bizleri düşüren yazarın bize mantıklı argümanlarla ilettiği çıkış noktasına göre; bir uzaylı dünyadaki yaşamları incelese muhtemelen bizi diğer iki şempanze türüne çok benzeyen üçüncü bir şempanze türü olarak çok ayrıcalıklı olmayacak bir yere oturturdu muhtemelen.

Ama baktığımızda biz diğer canlıların yapmadığı bir çok şeyi yapmaktayız. Sanat mesela, ya da soykırımlar. Ama gerçekte böyle mi? Yoksa en insani saydığımız karakteristiklerin dahi doğada kökenleri mi var? Diamond elindeki verileri ortaya dökerek bu meseleyi açıklığa kavuşturuyor. Elbette her zaman olduğu gibi bazı soruların kesin yanıtları yok.

Sonuç olarak; insanlık tarihinin doğaya dokunan temeller üzerinde yükselişine tanıklık etmek maksadıyla okunabilecek bir kitap Üçüncü Şempanze.
Profile Image for Zuberino.
365 reviews65 followers
March 4, 2011
If I could have a brain transplant, I'd choose to have Jared Diamond's. Loved the whole book! If you have a curious bent, it will blow the doors of your mind wide open. Loved loved loved the disquisition on the Kurgan hypothesis - brilliant to find out where the two disparate languages that I speak came from!
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,232 followers
October 22, 2009
As I began reading The Third Chimpanzee, a little voice in my head told me that I should stop reading books by Jared Diamond. His subsequent three popular science books all have their origins in this one; I began with Guns, Germs, and Steel and then read Collapse. So reading The Third Chimpanzee was sort of like getting a summary of those two books, plus the one I haven't read yet. Thus, I sought out to determine if the latter books suffered because they were too long an exploration of Diamond's ideas, or if they are superior to his original formulation of arguments concerning those three subjects. The shocking answer will soon be revealed!

Caveat: parts of this book are now dated, as it was written nearly twenty years ago. Hence, while I usually find Harper's "P.S." sections boring, this one was useful because it allowed Diamond to update us on some of the advances in science and historical discoveries since the book was first published.

My reaction to this book is probably the most mixed reaction I've had to any of Diamond's books thus far. As the aforementioned "P.S." author interview says, Diamond's life as a modern scientific polymath stems from a desire not to be confined to "one tiny slice of life's palette." He began as a physiological researcher and has since distinguished himself for writing on subjects like ornithology, anthropology, history, and geography, earning him the title of "biogeographer." I applaud Diamond for his varied interests and ability to apply those interests and synthesize an argument about human development from multiple disciplines. However, it's important that the reader remember that Diamond isn't a geneticist, astronomer, anthropologist, etc. And sometimes, he overreaches himself when attempting to apply his considerable life experience to his arguments. Oh, and he also tries to be witty and . . . well, once and a while it works, but most of the time his attempts at humour fall flat.

In Part One, Diamond begins by examining how we differ from our closest relatives. There's a fancy chart that shows the estimated dates of evolutionary divergence from common ancestors (gibbons and orangutans split off earlier, then gorillas, then chimpanzees and humans finally went their separate ways around 7 million years ago). Still, the human genome and chimp genome are 98 per cent similar, and Diamond argues that this is enough of a similarity that humanity should constitute the "third chimpanzee." He then postulates that the rise of complex spoken language was the cause of the anthropological "Great Leap Forward" that allowed humans to begin developing the behaviour required for societies to arise. This is the "teaser" part of the book, in which Diamond whets our appetite for details he'll later reveal. He also makes a one-off attempt to plead for the cessation of medical experimentation on chimpanzees, implying that because we are—in his view—of the same genus, it's just as bad as experimenting on humans. Regardless of one's views on the subject, Diamond raises an interesting point . . . and then doesn't return to it at any subsequent moment in the book.

Next, Diamond looks at humans' anomalous "life cycle" compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, particularly primates. Humans are the only primates in which the women go through menopause and cease being fertile. Chimpanzee males have larger testicles than human males because chimpanzee males mate so frequently they need the extra sperm, but most couplings last only seconds! I've always been interested in how our different sexual characteristics have helped humanity rise to its present status on the planet, so I loved this part of the book. Furthermore, unlike some later parts, Diamond remains on firm ground when he seeks evolutionary explanations for human sexual behaviour.

That ground becomes progressively shakier in Part Three, perhaps the worst of the five parts to Diamond's book. Here, he examines aspects of human society that are uniquely developed—the two most notable examples are art and drug abuse. Unfortunately, Diamond over-extends his attempts to explain these behaviours purely from an evolutionary perspective. Is this because evolution can't solely explain them? Or is this merely a failure on Diamond's part as thinker? It's a little of both, in my opinion: Diamond is great at synthesizing disparate sources of information to create a compelling thesis; unfortunately, as he does so, he tends to get somewhat reductionist in his perspective. While his argument is not wrong, it is at the very least incomplete, which still makes it flawed.

I was annoyed when, in the chapter on extraterrestrial life, Diamond began to explain why it's not necessarily likely that an advanced species would develop radio:

You might object that I'm being too stringent in looking for early precursors of radios themselves, when I should instead look for just the two qualities necessary to make radios: intelligence and mechanical dexterity. But the situation there is little more encouraging. Based on the very recent evolutionary experience of our own species, we arrogantly assume intelligence and dexterity to be the best way of taking over the world, and to have evolved inevitably.

Now, I actually agree with the latter part of that quotation. The fact that, on Earth, so far humans are the only form of life to have developed what we term "intelligence" indicates it may not be the only path to global domination. After all, prior to their extinction, the dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and they were certainly dumb by our standards. Still, Diamond is short-sighted; he wrongly assumes that intelligence or dexterity are prerequisites to leveraging radio. They're prerequisites in the invention and construction of mechanical radio transmitters and receivers, sure. "Radio" itself is a medium; radio waves constitute part of the electromagnetic spectrum of radiation. Just as many species have independently evolved eyes to see visual light (and some species can see into other spectrums), what's to stop a species on another planet from evolving a radio transceiver organ? Perhaps the absence of any such creature on Earth would make such an evolutionary development unlikely, at least on Earth-like planets. However, not every habitable planet has to be exactly Earth-like. Maybe there exists conditions on another planet where the evolution of biological radio makes sense. This is a totally hypothetical, spontaneous scenario, but I hope it demonstrates my problem with Diamond's reasoning. In an effort to produce the best arguments possible, he often generalizes or focuses too narrowly on subjects beyond his best areas of knowledge.

In Parts Four and Five, Diamond explores the seeds of the ideas that would turn into two of his later books, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse. Since I've already read these books, I have to admit I skimmed a great deal of these sections. The chapter on language was interesting, but I had already learned much the same from the more recent Before the Dawn . If you read a great deal of anthropological non-fiction, you too may find these sections less-than-fascinating. The one exception is Chapter 17, "The Golden Age That Never Was."

Thank you, Mr. Diamond, for that chapter. It irks me to no end when I hear someone talk about the "good ol' days" of human society, some sort of pastoral paradise where everyone was happy and we experienced no strife. The idea that simpler times were better times is a myth, one that Diamond thoroughly discredits in this chapter. He shows us that people, for the most part, have perpetrated the same sort of acts in the past as we see happening now—the difference is one of degree. Modern technology allows us to expand the scale and speed with which we create problems, making us more efficient at marshalling chaos. Unfortunately, Pandora's box has been opened, and there's no going back. Diamond comes to the same conclusion and so focuses on what hope we might have for the future of our spaces, however slim.

As with Collapse, Diamond broadcasts a message of cautious optimism. We may be able to survive, provided we as a society "choose" to begin living in a way that's more sustainable. He's vague on the details, claiming that his book is "an analysis" of our problems rather than a laundry-list of potential solutions. The solutions, he maintains, are already well-known; we just have to choose to implement them. While that sort of rhetoric isn't very appealing to me, I understand Diamond's difficulty in writing prescriptions. Nevertheless, that call for optimism is less effective in such an unhelpful context.

Right from the start of The Third Chimpanzee, Diamond was up front about his mad love for New Guinea and its peoples and his opinion that it's somehow a microcosm for the development of society. Those who have read my review of Guns, Germs, and Steel know how I got tired of hearing that line. Paradoxically, the New Guineans feature more heavily in this book, but I found their inclusion both more tolerable and more interesting. I actually learned things about New Guinea that made me exclaim, "Oh, that's cool!" rather than roll my eyes and snort, "Right, OK Diamond. Whatever you say." My experience with The Third Chimpanzee has therefore provoked the least amount of sarcasm from me regarding Jared Diamond's writing. It is both the best and the worst of his work: where it is flawed, it is more flawed; where it is useful, it is far more useful. If you read one Jared Diamond book, this should be the one.

And there's the rub. It's difficult to write popular science books. There's a fine line between intelligent and esoteric, between academically rigorous and overly-complicated. Diamond has undertaken a challenge, and for that I respect him; at least he isn't writing puff pieces. For the majority of people, The Third Chimpanzee is worthy of dinner table conversation or book group discussion; it's a great starting point in the quest to read anthropological non-fiction. It is not the culmination of that quest, but a stepping stone along the way to more rigorous, more intense non-fiction on this subject. And that's all it can be.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
478 reviews68 followers
September 27, 2019
Jared Diamond has an amazing talent for connecting facts one after the other, leading to surprising insights. His books are full of things that make you go “Hmm.” In The Third Chimpanzee the reader will learn of humanity’s evolutionary past and the social and cultural adaptations that led to the modern world.

We start with a common ape-like ancestor from whom both humans and chimpanzees/bonobos diverged some 3,000,000 years ago, and progress through the various human ancestors until we arrive at homo sapiens. Spoken language precipitated what Diamond calls The Great Leap Forward, from which point mankind’s evolution would proceed along cultural rather than biological lines. We learn interesting facts about human reproduction, some of which are still not clearly understood, about things like why ovulation in human females produces no outward physical changes in their appearance, why they are fertile for only a few days each month, why sex is done in private, and why women experience menopause. Individually, these are just facts that we all know, but most of us never thought about linking them together into into a narrative that explains how biology and cultural selection reinforce one another. Remove any one of these characteristics and modern society would probably be very different.

Language is a remarkable subject, and, once again, Diamond provides interesting observations. For instance vervet monkeys have a small number of words for different kinds of threats. That these are truly words, not just vocalizations like prairie dogs make, is shown by the fact that they can use them to purposely deceive rival troops.

Diamond has some good observations about the transition of humans from hunter gatherers to pastoralists and farmers. The transition from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle was not necessarily a healthy choice. Archaeological evidence show that hunter gatherers worked less than farmers, were healthier, and lived a more egalitarian lifestyle. Yuval Noah Harari, in his recent book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, expands on this topic in greater detail and with more recent scholarship. For those with an interest in political history, according to Marx this is also the point in humanity’s past when things began to go wrong, when communities moved from what he theorized was primitive communism into the next stage of society: slavery (to be followed by feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and finally, communism again. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out that way.)

The author makes a point about the domestication of plants that he would develop more fully in Guns, Germs, and Steel, and it is one of the key concepts that he would use to try to answer the question: why did science and technology develop in the West rather than somewhere else? Why did the Europeans sail to South America rather than the Aztecs sailing to and conquering Europe? One reason was that Europe and Asia found their dominant societies oriented on an east-west axis, while in South American it was north-south. The east-west one allowed plants to move easily across the continent, introducing better nourishment and leading to larger populations. North-south would require long and painstaking generations acclimatizing plants from cooler environments to equatorial heat, and back again to cooler climates in order for them to make it to the Northern Hemisphere. The accident of east-west geography granted European and Asian societies an advantage that none of the other cultures could overcome.

Finally, Diamond ends his book with a prescient look at humanity’s impact on the world. We have wiped out many many species and there is no reason to believe we will show greater caution in the future than we did in the past.

The book was published in 1991 based on earlier research, so, while it is still interesting and informative, science has moved on and some of what he says is out of date. With that in mind, however, this is an excellent book for someone looking for an understanding of human social, biological, and cultural evolution.
Profile Image for Ron Brown.
292 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2021
Diamond’s, “Guns Germs and Steal was an important juncture in my reading life and my understanding of the human world. I have subsequently read all of his works. The Third Chimpanzee had been hanging in my reading conscience for some time and when it became available, I jumped at the opportunity to read, examine and digest Diamond’s take on so many aspects of what it is to be human and how we reached where we are today.
It wasn’t till I read Diamond’s statement that the world’s population was 5 billion that I realised that this publication is now thirty years old. It has certainly stood the test of time.
In these times of anti-science, it is comforting and challenging to dive into such a well written sweep of human history. I do not have the knowledge to challenge any of Diamond’s assertions (not like a few quasi-polymaths who write reviews) but what this book does for me is to stimulate and challenge. There were times when I would pause, rest the book on my knees and reflect on what I had just read. Diamond’s discussion of how public the act of sex is for so many of our close relatives yet for us it is an extremely private affair. The short period of time when women are able to become pregnant and how there is no physical demonstration when this time occurs. The importance of language has been crucial in homosapien development. I had always believed that the control of fire led to humans consuming more meat, therefore more protein and subsequent brain development. Diamond argues against that idea.
The role of elders in non-literate societies was fascinating. The reason that some societies developed technology while others didn’t was illuminating. With the kangaroo being the only large mammal one can see why the Australian Aborigine never developed the wheel. The reason why some animals can be domesticated. Have you ever tried putting a saddle on a zebra!
Diamond’s numerous reference to his work in New Guinea is most interesting and brings a personal touch to his scientific writing.
Diamond is a great scientist and an accomplished writer. This mix has led to the creation of a timeless text that can still be read some thirty years after it was first published.
Profile Image for simon aloyts.
11 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2007
Dr. Diamond’s first book for which he won nothing but the admiration of some pathetic, lifeless losers like yours truly. But he should have. It was excellent. True that Chimpanzee is the Salieri to Guns’ Mozart, but what it lacks in breadth it makes up in simplicity and erudition. I breezed through this book with nary a trip to Wikipedia unlike GGS, which sent me there virtually every day. And yet I still learned a ton.

The chapter titled “The Golden Age That Never Was” was a delightful decimation of the position that simpler times harbored some kind of environmental respect that we have since lost. It’s like he read Quinn’s manuscript for Ishmael (see) and wrote this in protest. Diamond points out that the Native New Worlders, far from respecting nature, precipitated the largest wave of extinction in human history. Just how respectful is it to walk up to a 500lb flightless bird that doesn’t run from you because it didn’t have the benefit of evolving to be afraid of humans and club it over the head? Or to kill a wooly mammoth, feast for 2 days and then leave the rest to rot?

About as respectful as trading Manhattan Island for some beads. At least now the species-killers get to keep our gambling money. What did the giant ground sloth get?
Profile Image for Jake.
232 reviews50 followers
July 2, 2019
I was unimpressed as I had read so many other books on the same, or on similar topics, nevertheless, this book can serve well as good framing for those interested in anthropology in its lens of human evolution.

The one idea I saw discussed here which is often neglected is the idea of human cultural elements existing within animals. That is really freaking cool and I would love to see a book handle that topic in more depth. If you have any recommendations lemme know.

I recommend this for those who liked books like sapians, the selfish gene, the moral animal and books of the kind, this will help you gain some more depth in your understanding of humanity.
Profile Image for Ricardo Vladimiro.
106 reviews11 followers
July 4, 2021
Começando pelo mais óbvio, este livro tem 30 anos. Para um livro de divulgação científica, 30 anos é muito tempo. Certamente não era no tempo de Newton e de Galileu, mas em pleno século XXI, é natural que 30 anos façam a diferença, e neste caso fazem. Não de forma dramática porque são sobre detalhes secundários, mas retiram algo ao raciocínio original de Jared Diamond.

No entanto eu queria ler este livro porque tinha uma expectativa de que ía ser um "pica-miolo", ou seja, um livro que apresenta uma perspectiva nova sobre a humanidade. Tal como Guns, Germs and Steel do mesmo autor ou Sapiens, de Yuval Noah Harari, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee debruça-se sobre a história da humanidade a partir uma lente particular: a da nossa posição no reino animal, mais especificamente entre os primatas onde somos o mais antigo dos 3 chimpanzés.

E neste contexto o livro não desilude. É uma pérola na exploração do que faz o Homo Sapiens ser Homo Sapiens, desmistificando quer o que consideramos ser único e não é, como é o caso da agricultura, arte e linguagem, e detalhando algumas ilusões que temos sobre a história da humanidade. No entanto deve ser lido não no seu intuito original de divulgação científica, mas mais como um livro de filosofia da ciência e da história, onde, acredito, continuará actual por muitos e longos anos.
Profile Image for Federico Sosa Machó.
385 reviews95 followers
September 6, 2019
Leer a Diamond siempre es una experiencia atractiva. Aquí se enfoca en indagar cuál es la singularidad de lo humano en relación con el resto de las especies, y otra vez esa búsqueda redunda en un interesantísimo texto. Acaso a veces alguna digresión se extienda demasiado, o cuestiones menores aparecen demasiado desarrolladas, pero el balance es sumamente positivo. La prosa fluye, los temas son desafiantes y cada libro del autor es una invitación a seguir leyéndolo. No es poco.
Profile Image for Nandita Damaraju.
50 reviews6 followers
December 13, 2018
A few weeks ago, a bunch of us were talking about the origins of our species, Homo sapiens and I was astonished at how little my friends and I knew about our ancestors. Going back to the roots of our development can provide a lot of insights into our present. So after scouting around for some recommendations, I picked up this brilliant book to learn more about our past, present, and future.

The book begins with the deviation of homo sapiens and our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and the bonobos from our common ancestor, the great ape, about 3 million years ago. The book then proceeds to trace our evolution through hallmark human characteristics and how these characteristics might eventually spell disaster for our species. The author Jared Diamond draws a lot of his observations from his frequent trips to the Pacific Islands, that until recently were isolated pockets of land with no contact to the outside world. These observations span the domains of biology, anthropology, culture, history, and language. It is hard to gain an unbiased outsider’s perspective of the evolution of our species, and the author attempts to do this from time to time by invoking a neutral alien observer who would comment on our development. Since this book was written in 1991, a part of the book that is based on conjecture about the genetics of human evolution. These theories have primarily been proved/disproved ever since sequencing technologies have evolved rapidly.

I also couldn’t help but notice how natural selection has played a significant role not only in genetic evolution but also in cultural development. The author remarks how genetic differences between humans 40,000 years ago and now are very minimal. The author argues, that if humans of 40,000 years ago were to be born today, they would be able to use the latest technology with dexterity. The author in his chapters of sexuality and the human life cycle very wonderfully brings out how this cultural evolution has superseded genetic evolution in various aspects of our lifecycle such as our choice for a mate, concealed ovulation, clandestine copulation. The traits mentioned above, have been carried forward over generations because they enable us to perform more efficiently.

It was a revelation to see how the modern plagues of society, xenophobia, violence, environmental destruction, etc. are rooted deeply in our evolutionary history. We, humans, were responsible not only for the extermination of large species such as the woolly mammoths, sabertooths and giant sloths that roamed the planet until recently. We were also responsible for the extinction of a part of our OWN species, such as the Tasmanian aboriginals, all 50,000 of whom were killed by colonists. The list of species we have driven to extinction is a lot larger than I would have ever imagined. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that we continue to act in our evolutionarily wired ways and continue to decimate our environment and species around us. But being rooted deep in our evolutionary history doesn’t warrant justifying such acts. To quote the author, “The past was still a Golden Age, of ignorance, while the present is an Iron Age of willful bliss.” We were oblivious to the damage we were causing to the environment a few centuries ago, but now we are aware of the consequences and aware of the fact that these consequences are much more substantial due to our large population. The period of “willful bliss” will soon transform into a period of "irrevocable despair" if we continue to use lack of awareness as a pretext to cause environmental damage further.

The last few chapters of the book, take on an apocalyptic tone and very rightly so. Even though the author profoundly believes our end is near, if we don’t reform our ways, he remains “cautiously optimistic” in the epilogue of the book. A lot of the events that helped our species flourish throughout the planet were mere coincidences, and we’re collectively abusing that luck. Reading about our origins was deeply humbling and puts all the other "problems" that pique our capitalistic, material world today into perspective. I would highly recommend this book to EVERYONE, irrespective of age, interests, and beliefs.
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