"The World Until Yesterday" by Jared Diamond

Jan 7, 2013

Pulitzer-Prize winner and UCLA Professor Jared Diamond joins us this morning to discuss his new book: The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

When Diamond writes “yesterday,” he means it by a standard of 6 million years — how long humans have been around. State government, on this time scale, really did only arise yesterday. Before state government and modern technology, we lived in traditional societies, which range in populations from a few dozen to a few hundred, but have no centralized government or king.

Within traditional societies, there are no strangers, but tribes are constantly in warfare with their enemies. Once a traditional society encounters the outside world, as what happened in New Guinea when Europeans arrived, society immediately starts to change. They acquire steel, matches and a colonial government — one that tells them to stop fighting.

Diamond documented the reasons why European invaders overwhelmed less technologically advanced cultures in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. He laid out cautionary tales of social breakdown in the follow-up book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond is a geography professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.