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Third Chimpanzee, The

4.4 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060984038
ISBN-10: 0060984031
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jared Diamond states the theme of his book up-front: "How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conqueror; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight." The Third Chimpanzee is, in many ways, a prequel to Diamond's prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns examines "the fates of human societies," this work surveys the longer sweep of human evolution, from our origin as just another chimpanzee a few million years ago. Diamond writes:

It's obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It's also obvious that we're a species of big mammal down to the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species.

The chapters in The Third Chimpanzee on the oddities of human reproductive biology were later expanded in Why Is Sex Fun? Here, they're linked to Diamond's views of human psychology and history.

Diamond is officially a physiologist at UCLA medical school, but he's also one of the best birdwatchers in the world. The current scientific consensus that "primitive" humans created ecological catastrophes in the Pacific islands, Australia, and the New World owes a great deal to his fieldwork and insight. In Diamond's view, the current global ecological crisis isn't due to modern technology per se, but to basic weaknesses in human nature. But, he says, "I'm cautiously optimistic. If we will learn from our past that I have traced, our own future may yet prove brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees." --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Library Journal

Research biologist (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands) Diamond argues that the human being is just a third species of chimpanzee but nevertheless a unique animal essentially due to its capacity for innovation, which caused a great leap forward in hominoid evolution. After stressing the significance of spoken language, along with art and technology, Diamond focuses on the self-destructive propensities of our species to kill each other (genocide and drug abuse) and to destroy the environment (mass extinctions). He also discusses human sexuality, geographic variability, and ramifications of agriculture (metallurgy, cultivated plants, and domesticated animals). Absent from Diamond's work is the role religion plays in causing both war and the population explosion as well as long-range speculations on the future of our species. This informative, most fascinating, and very readable book is highly recommended for all libraries.
- H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarpPeren (October 23, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060984031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060984038
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Since I teach evolutionary psychology in college, I try to keep up with "popular" expositions of human evolution--both because my (better) students will have read them and because some of them make for good teaching tools. The first ten chapters of this book rank, in my opinion, as probably the best single account of what we really do and do not know about human evolution.
In these first ten chapters, Diamond gives us dispassionate surveys of dominant theories and available evidence. Here, it's not unusual for him to say something like, Here are the six dominant theories, here is the evidence that shows why four of them don't deserve serious consideation anymore in spite of their emotional or political appeal, and here are the relative scientific merits of the remainder. In an arena beset by vicious ad hominem attacks and passionate ideological presentations of unproven theories, Diamond--in these first ten chapters--offers the student more concerned with truth than ideology a lovely account.
Among the important points he makes in these first ten chapters: Our genetic propensities toward cooperation, care for no-longer-procreative elders, and (in the case of women) outliving reproductive capacity set the stage for the evolution of the human brain. Genes may be "selfish," but our genes' inclining us toward non-egoistic ways of life lie at the foundation of being human at all. This is a crucial point, consistent with the ethical views and habits of all civilizations other than those that foster "social Darwinism." That our humanity depends on the falsity of "social Darwinism" cannot be emphasized too greatly.
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Format: Paperback
Perused this book while shopping in a "brick & mortar bookstore. Having read Guns, Germs & Steel I was familiar with the author's strength - intelligent discourse in a very readable style. The Third Chimpanzee, like GG&S, requires some involvement on the part of the reader. About 70% of the time I felt like I was learning something new and the other 30% my brain was comparing Diamond's thoughts to personal experiences and formulating new perspectives. The topics, which could easily be boring are made interesting by Diamond's frequent linkages to modern reference points. The book's chapters do not need to be read in order and in fact many were published as stand alone articles in Discover and Natural History Magazines. (This may be the secret to their readability.) Diamond does weave a progressive story through the book which culminates in a very thought provoking last chapter. I finished the book thinking, "so what am I going to do about these issues". The reader participation doesn't stop at the end of the book. Two weeks later and it's still percolating in my mind.
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Format: Paperback
"The Third Chimpanzee," by Jared Diamond, is a fascinating study on how humans evolved, how seperate they are from other animals, and if anything can be done to stop the global destruction they are causing today. Much of the text of this book illustrates just how much human behavior is controlled by genes; many of the behaviors which are regarded as immoral (adultery, for instance) are shown to give the person who behaves in this manner an evolutionary advantage. Partnered with describing how much of human behavior is genetically controlled is a clear, well documented argument that humans and their unique behavior (specifically culture) are not so unique in the animal kingdom. Almost every form of "unique" human behaviors, ranging from art to language to genocide, have been observed in other species of animals. Diamond makes the point that it is known that these behaviors are not unique to humans; humans just practice these behaviors to a greater degree than most other animal species. Diamond also traces the beginnings of the environmental problems that humans are facing today to the cro-magnon period of human history. Diamond makes the point that many of the large species of mammals, such as the wooly mammoth, were not killed off by the ice age. Rather, the mammoths were driven to extinction by early human hunting parties. Diamond points out with frightening clarity that environmental destruction is part of our evolutionary history based on our genes, a history which is still influencing us today. Finally, Diamond gives some thought to what can be done to reverse humanity's penchant for environmental destruction, and most importantly, if it is too late to save the earth. This book is thought-provoking, scientifically sound, and articulate, and a joy to read.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
If you've read Diamond's two most recent books -- "Why is Sex Fun?" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" -- very little in this book will be new to you. "The Third Chimpanzee" covers a wider range of topics and is more overtly political than those two, but much of the same territory is examined.
In this book, which was his first for a general audience, Diamond examines the history of man's evolution, seeking to establish patterns that might explain man's future. He worries that man has a self-destructive tendency -- as typified by genocide, the threat of atomic warfare, and the loss of biodiversity -- that could lead to man's own self-destruction. While Diamond occasionally tries to strike an optimistic note, the book has a dark pessimism throughout it.
One of the book's only failings is that its several aims are sometimes at cross purposes. Diamond begins "The Third Chimpanzee" by trying to level man down to the animals. He does this by explaining how closely connected man is genetically to his closest living cousins, the chimpanzees (thus, the name of this book). On this basis, he then argues that a rethinking in our concept of human rights is in order.
Later in the book, however, when Diamond is exhorting his fellow homo sapiens to save the planet, he chooses to focus on man's unique traits, both destructive and redeeming. Man is capable of genocide, certain types of which, Diamond argues, are unique to man. On the other hand, man is also capable of learning from the history of his species, something which is also unique to man. Diamond's switch from presenting man as just another chimpanzee to presenting man as both world destroyer and potential world savior is a bit jarring, even if not necessarily contradictory.
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