My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dr. Diamond presents us with a wealth of anthropological stories, experiences, and insights on traditional societies which all add up to a fairly anecdotal view of what this knowledge can offer modern societies. Even the views we get of modern societies are fairly general and do not apply to everyone in those societies. Dr. Diamond does certainly acknowledge that he is speaking in generalities in the introduction, but does this hurt the story Diamond is trying to tell? The narrative often jumps from culture to culture, though mostly focuses on New Guinea where Diamond has dedicated most of his professional career. We often get a few examples of traditional societies compared to modern societies, and Diamond allows us some inference on our own of how these situations might inform possible improvements in our own society, or to allow us to contrast and consider what we give up in order to live a different, possibly better life in modern society. It is a fairly balanced approach that does not romanticize traditional life, while also critiquing faults in modern living. I agree that there are valuable lessons and behaviors from traditional societies that we could use today, but overall I think most readers could agree that the benefits of modern society far outweigh the costs. Those costs could certainly be mitigated more both through individual and societal changes.
If you are a fan of Diamond’s previous work you will probably enjoy this book. If you are also a fan of books that attempt to understand society and historical context, you would probably also find this book interesting.