What with all the bedrest I’ve been catching up on my reading.
I first became aware of Jared Diamond while having lunch in Tampere in the summer of 2001. I was there in Finland for a conference, and one of my lunch companions was raving about Guns, Germs, and Steel. A quick glance at other reviews indicates that’s his most revered book; it seems to be an expansion of a single chapter in The Third Chimpanzee. Indeed many if not all of his subsequent books seem to expand on themes he first addressed here. That says a lot about the scope and ambition of Third Chimpanzee.
I was drawn to this book because of its focus on human origins. This is a subject about which I knew little, and I learned plenty here, which was gratifying. But I was surprised by how much more I found here, everything from ruminations on extraterrestrial life to an examination of genocide.
Diamond takes aim at the biggest questions of human existence, and attempts to explicate them with passion and honesty. Occasionally his reach exceeds his grasp, occasionally he doesn’t seem to deliver the goods he promises — but only very occasionally. And honestly, if he’s half-right about half the issues he takes on, it’s still an impressive effort. I found his outlining of the questions at least as valuable as the answers he provides.
(Thanks to Brother O’Mara for loaning this one to me.)