The era of modern societies makes up only a tiny fraction of human history. To understand how humans interacted for most of history it is essential to understand traditional societies. In the last century some of the last traditional societies that have been untouched by modern societies, e.g. in Papa New Guinea, were contacted and often transformed by modern societies. In The World Until Yesterday Jared Diamond examines and contrasts traditional societies with modern societies.
The book’s sections touch on conflict resolution, warfare, child-raising practices, religion, treatment of the elderly, handling risk, the effects of multilingual environments, and diet in traditional and modern societies. Diamond does not idealize traditional societies’ practices nor immediately dismiss them either. For example, in his conflict resolution section Diamond highlights the priority of relationship repair in traditional societies that is missing from the formal court cases handled by third-party intermediaries like attorneys in modern societies. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.
I greatly enjoyed Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. His Collapse was only so-so. I give The World Until Yesterday 4 Stars for readers who are already predisposed to enjoying anthropology. If you aren’t a fan its 512 pages will seem too long.