Review Blog

Jan 23 2015

The third chimpanzee for young people: On the evolution and future of the human animal by Jared Diamond

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Oneworld Publications, 2014. ISBN 9781780746043
Recommended (Age: 14+) As his title suggests, Jared Diamond sees human beings as the product of evolution, and of its guiding principle natural selection. To this Pulitzer Prize-winning Professor of Geography, evolution raises more questions than it answers. His hypotheses provide some challenging insights into human behaviour. Having traced the ascent of humankind, Diamond turns his attention to its impact on the planet. After considering climate change, the extinction of species and the loss of Indigenous peoples, he concludes that the negative effects of the growth of human power have the potential to overturn the balance of nature. Despite the threat that humanity poses to its own existence, Jared Diamond declares that he is 'cautiously hopeful' because people can learn from the past.
Rebecca Stefoff's adaptation of Jared Diamond's original work explains complex concepts clearly and concisely. Subjects such as sexuality, death, self-destructive behaviours and genocide are examined in a frank, detached, informative manner that combines scientific inquiry with the sweep of human history. Occasional flashes of emotion are revealed when the author reflects on the disappearance of a species or culture. Scientific terms are defined with elaboration rather than avoided or simplified, and their meanings are clarified further in a useful glossary. Black and white illustrations and photographs enhance the text.
There are at least two reasons to read The third chimpanzee. The first is to find out how a scholar can interpret evidence drawn from a broad knowledge of the human and natural world. The second is to share a thought-provoking contemplation of the evolution of humanity and civilisation. Whether or not readers agree with Jared Diamond's interpretation of life on Earth, they may find themselves pondering the issues raised, long after they have finished reading the book.
Elizabeth Bor

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