Authors Live: Jared Diamond

Main Library

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  • The World Until Yesterday
  • Jared Diamond

Best-selling author Jared Diamond will speak, promoting the paperback release of his book The World Until Yesterday. Bookselling and signing to follow. Books will be available for purchase from The King’s English Bookshop.


The title of the book, The World Until Yesterday, was chosen because so-called traditional societies really did blanket the world until almost yesterday, measured by the time scale of the 6,000,000-year history of the human evolutionary line. Traditional societies are small-scale societies consisting of a few dozen to a few hundred people, in which everyone knows everyone else and their relationships, strangers are rare and assumed to be dangerous, and centralized state government and writing are absent. But even within our modern state societies, many features of our traditional lifestyle persist in the rural areas of industrialized populous nations.

Traditional societies are far more diverse than are large modern societies with state governments, because all large societies with state governments have to converge on certain features in order to persist. The differences among traditional societies constitute thousands of different experiments in how to organize a human society—experiments that have already been run for thousands of years by traditional societies. We can learn from the outcomes, and possibly will selectively adopt some things from the huge range of traditional human experience.

Jared Diamond draws extensively on his decades of fieldwork in the Pacific Islands, as well as on evidence from Inuit, Amazonian Indians, Kalahari San people, and others. He finds much to admire and learn from their approaches to universal issues such as how we raise our children, treat our elders, resolve our disputes, weigh risks, and achieve health and fitness. To be sure, the nuanced complexities of traditional societies are far more numerous than this short list.


Jared Diamond is a Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical society. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmo Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize Honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by Rockefeller University. He has published more than six hundred articles and his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Location: Main Library Auditorium

Contact Information: 801-524-8200