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The World Until Yesterday – Jared Diamond


mjohn707
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I’ve always avoided anthropology since college when I took a required course that mainly consisted of taking lots of notes on what seemed to be an endless number of contradictory and implausible theories of human behavior.  I also did not like Diamond’s previous book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” which was recommended by Charlie Munger as an example of the multidisciplinary mode of thinking that he espouses.  For me that book seemed like a plausible deduction that was either correct or just an artifact of data mining, and Diamond’s theory didn’t seem to me provable or disprovable, so the whole exercise seemed pretty pointless.

 

So this new book had two strikes against it, and I didn’t plan on reading it.  For some reason I did, and I can admit that I was wrong about my appraisal of Diamond and even about the subject of anthropology.  “The World Until Yesterday” is a summary of Diamond’s long career of study of traditional cultures that existed before civilization, and many of the facts and theories are surprising.  It’s possible that many of Diamond’s theories suffer from the same problems at least in part that “Guns, Germs, and Steel” suffers from, but if he’s even correct about the basic information and reporting it honestly, the book has a lot to say about far reaching topics, and the information seems underrepresented in the investing community.

 

Among some of the interesting facts he discusses are that apparently humans had a biological form of birth control that functioned through most of human existence until diets began changing with civilization.  He talks about abortion in traditional cultures, which was widely practiced but often ritualized in a way to keep it out of the sight of society.  Diamond also debunks Buffett’s off repeated claim about how he or Bill Gates would have been useless outside of modern civilization (eaten by a tiger) with an example of Inuit ice floe fisherman, which I think has unusual similarities to the practice of investing.  He debunks the paleo diet, and describes the real one that no one will ever want to practice although it likely would have some health benefits.  He describes how quickly traditional cultures can adapt to modern practices once they are exposed to civilization, which involves social upheaval along with biological evolution on a human generational timescale, as well as tragic loss of life.  He also describes how anthropologists can predict whether traditional cultures will be either completely pacifistic or more much more warlike than modern societies with just two variables.

 

Diamond covers a bunch of other topics, and there are other descriptions of human behavior that seems surprising even though it was the norm through most of human existence.  I can’t promise that this book will make you a better investor, but I think that a book that describes phenomena that would defy your predictions might have some value in a discipline where overconfidence has historically been a common downfall.

 

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Thanks for a thorough review. I had the same feeling as you did to “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. I'll put this book on my (long and hopeless) reading list.

 

Has some interesting pictures too.  My favorite is the photo someone got of a native man during his first contact with the outside world.  You can see the absolute shock and horror in his face, just can't imagine what it would be like to be in his situation

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I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, although a lot of that love may have been due to being 18 years old when I first read it.

 

After that, read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee. Guns, Germs, and Steel has always been my favourite of those 3.

 

I slogged through The World Until Yesterday last year. It is very interesting although I found it quite drawn out. I think it is worth a skim: skip through areas that bore you and read in-depth in areas that capture your fascination.

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I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, although a lot of that love may have been due to being 18 years old when I first read it.

 

After that, read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee. Guns, Germs, and Steel has always been my favourite of those 3.

 

I slogged through The World Until Yesterday last year. It is very interesting although I found it quite drawn out. I think it is worth a skim: skip through areas that bore you and read in-depth in areas that capture your fascination.

 

I tried to read Collapse but I just couldn't get into it for some reason.  Tons of details in The World Until Yesterday, but I sort of like that, makes me feel it's more empirical and I can sort of draw my own conclusions

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I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, although a lot of that love may have been due to being 18 years old when I first read it.

 

After that, read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee. Guns, Germs, and Steel has always been my favourite of those 3.

 

I slogged through The World Until Yesterday last year. It is very interesting although I found it quite drawn out. I think it is worth a skim: skip through areas that bore you and read in-depth in areas that capture your fascination.

 

I tried to read Collapse but I just couldn't get into it for some reason.  Tons of details in The World Until Yesterday, but I sort of like that, makes me feel it's more empirical and I can sort of draw my own conclusions

 

The Easter Island case study was the most fascinating one for me as an example of societal collapse due to ecological damage. It's actually the only one that I can remember off the top of my head after more than a decade since I read Collapse last.

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I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, although a lot of that love may have been due to being 18 years old when I first read it.

 

After that, read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee. Guns, Germs, and Steel has always been my favourite of those 3.

 

I slogged through The World Until Yesterday last year. It is very interesting although I found it quite drawn out. I think it is worth a skim: skip through areas that bore you and read in-depth in areas that capture your fascination.

 

I tried to read Collapse but I just couldn't get into it for some reason.  Tons of details in The World Until Yesterday, but I sort of like that, makes me feel it's more empirical and I can sort of draw my own conclusions

 

The Easter Island case study was the most fascinating one for me as an example of societal collapse due to ecological damage. It's actually the only one that I can remember off the top of my head after more than a decade since I read Collapse last.

 

Was it because they converted all of their resources into giant heads?

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I loved Guns, Germs, and Steel, although a lot of that love may have been due to being 18 years old when I first read it.

 

After that, read Collapse and The Third Chimpanzee. Guns, Germs, and Steel has always been my favourite of those 3.

 

I slogged through The World Until Yesterday last year. It is very interesting although I found it quite drawn out. I think it is worth a skim: skip through areas that bore you and read in-depth in areas that capture your fascination.

 

I tried to read Collapse but I just couldn't get into it for some reason.  Tons of details in The World Until Yesterday, but I sort of like that, makes me feel it's more empirical and I can sort of draw my own conclusions

 

The Easter Island case study was the most fascinating one for me as an example of societal collapse due to ecological damage. It's actually the only one that I can remember off the top of my head after more than a decade since I read Collapse last.

 

Was it because they converted all of their resources into giant heads?

 

It was digging those enormous holes required to bury stone giants up to their necks.

 

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