Tuesday 17 June 2008
The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond
This is a fascinating book that looks at human evolution and searches for how it is similar to and how it differs from animal evolution. So there are chapters devoted to searching for the animal precursors of speech (eg chimpanzee vocalisations) and art (eg bowerbirds bowers), the overall intention being to determine how we became so different from the chimpanzees with whom we share most of our genetic information. Its not just positive attributes that are studied either, there are chapters devoted to genocide and environmental destruction, which although they are shown to be uniquely human in the extent to which we practice them, there are also animal precendents - such as in wars between rival troups of chimpanzees and rabbits that have eaten every last plant on an island. Diamond's writing style is engaging and intelligent and he has developed an excellent line in striking comparisons that really make the reader stop and think. I'm now on the lookout for Diamond's more recent book 'Collapse' which studies human civilisations, such as the Easter islands, that have collapsed after exhausting their ecological resource bases.