The Third Chimpanzee

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond is an interesting book.

I found out about Jared Diamond when Captain Arrrgh lent me his Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies many moons ago. I loved that book. So I was expecting something great here too.

The Third Chimpanzee is about human history and how we developed the way we did. It talks about sexuality and sexual selection, language, art, agriculture, drugs, and conquest. In many ways it is a very similar book to Nick Wade’s Before the Dawn. In fact, I should have read The Third Chimpanzee first since it was written more than a dozen years ago.

The first half of the book is a good exposition of several human traits and accomplishments and efforts to trace their origin. However, late in the book, Jared Diamond turns pessimistic. As he says in the theme for the book:

How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conquerer; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight.

This last part is what worries Diamond and what makes the book so pessimistic in tone as he discusses world conquest, genocide and the environment. His last chapter titled “The Second Cloud” is about what he terms the environmental holocaust and the epilogue is titled “Nothing Learned, and Everything Forgotten?”

While I share some of these concerns with Diamond, I am a technophile and somewhat of an optimist. Also, I think The Third Chimpanzee would have been a much better book without this focus on future catastrophes.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. In fact, the book was published before Guns & … . Diamond has changed some of his views, especially about the race and skin color, since the publication date.

  2. If man is a convert from Chimpanzee, it has gained only in crualty and poluting environment. Would have been better if it had remained Chimpanzee, an animal with no mood for atrocities to their own community as well as other communities, no white phorus or kerosene or nuclear devices.

  3. “It talks about sexuality and sexual selection, language, art, agriculture, drugs, and conquest.”

    Hey, have you read “The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature,” by Geoffrey Miller? It’s an interesting read, though when he was explaining how men express all sorts of social status indicators (ie fancy cars, a pumped up sound system, etc) as a way to attract females (who are apparently picky), I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this was human nature per se or capitalist ideology which was invading Miller’s interpretation. But he makes convincing arguments about language, poetry, art, and etc.

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