Jared Diamond


American Scientist, Civilization Scholar, Geographer and Author

Author Quotes

What did the last Easter Islander say as he chopped down the last tree? The Easter Islanders didn't have anthropologists.

What makes patriotic and religious fanatics such dangerous opponents is not the deaths of the fanatics themselves, but their willingness to accept the deaths of a fraction of their number in order to annihilate or crush their infidel enemy.

When I visited Nike and asked whether they were using organic and sustainable cotton, they told me they were careful not to use too much organic cotton, because they knew that Patagonia needs to use organic cotton, and they didn't want to drive Patagonia out of the market.

Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents for the last 13,000 years?

Why were there far more species of domesticated animals in Eurasia than in the Americas? The Americas harbor over a thousand native wild mammal species, so you might initially suppose that the Americas offered plenty of starting material for domestication.

Why you white man have so much cargo and we New Guineans have so little? (asked Yali)

Why, for instance, only 2 per cent of Europeans contract the disease as opposed to 13 per cent of African Americans, 17 per cent of U.S. Latinos and up to 50 per cent of Native Americans

With the MacArthur grant, I realized that people have high expectations of me, that they were placing me in this group of achievers. I compared what I'd actually achieved in my life with what I would like to achieve and what other people have achieved, and I found that comparison depressing.

With the rise of chiefdoms around 7,500 years ago, people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them.

Within six weeks, an estimated 800,000 Tutsi, representing about three-quarters of the Tutsi then remaining in Rwanda, or 11% of Rwanda's total population, had been killed.

Differences between the Old and New Worlds in domesticated plants, especially in large-seeded cereals, are qualitatively similar to the differences in domesticated mammals, though the difference is not so extreme.

History followed different courses for different people because of differences among peoples? environments, not because of biological differences among people themselves.

Infectious diseases introduced with Europeans, like smallpox and measles, spread from one Indian tribe to another, far in advance of Europeans themselves, and killed an estimated 95% of the New World's Indian population.

Neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.

Styles of sculpture, music, and dance used to vary greatly from village to village within New Guinea. Some villagers along the Sepik River and in the Asmat swamps produced carvings that are now world-famous because of their quality. But New Guinea villagers have been increasing coerced or seduced into abandoning their artistic traditions. When I visited an isolated triblet of 578 people at Bomai in 1965, the missionary controlling the only store had just manipulated the people into burning all their art. Centuries of unique cultural development ("heathen artifacts," as the missionary put it) had thus been destroyed in one morning.

The metaphor is so obvious. Easter Island isolated in the Pacific Ocean ? once the island got into trouble, there was no way they could get free. There were no other people from whom they could get help. In the same way that we on Planet Earth, if we ruin our own [world], we won't be able to get help.

Until the end of the last Ice Age, around 11 000 BC, all people on all continents were hunter-gatherers. Different rates of development on different continents, from 11 000BC to 1500AD, were what led to technological and political inequalities of 1500AD. While Aboriginal Australians and many Native Americans remained hunter-gatherers, most of Eurasia and much of the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa gradually developed agriculture, herding, metallurgy and complex political organization. Parts of Eurasia, and one area of the Americas, independently developed writing as well. However, each of these new developments appeared earlier in Eurasia than elsewhere. For instance, the mass production of bronze tools which was just beginning in the South American Andes in the centuries before 1500AD, was already established in Eurasia over 4000 years earlier. The stone technology of the Tasmanians, when first encountered by European explorers in 1642AD, was simpler than that prevalent in parts of the Upper Paleolithic Europe tens of thousands of years earlier.

Domestic animals revolutionized land transport. They also revolutionized agriculture, by letting one farmer plough and manure much more land than the farmer could till or manure by the farmer's own efforts.

History, as well as life itself, is complicated; neither life nor history is an enterprise for those who seek simplicity and consistency.

Intelligent people are likelier than less intelligent ones to escape those causes of high mortality (murder, chronic tribal warfare, accidents, problems procuring food..) in traditional New Guinean societies. However, the differential mortality from epidemic diseases in traditional European societies had little to do with intelligence, and instead involved genetic resistance dependent on details of body chemistry. For example people with blood type B or O have a greater genetic resistance to smallpox than do people with blood group A. That is, natural selection promoting genes for intelligence has probably been far more ruthless in New Guinea than in more densely populated, politically complex societies, where natural selection for body chemistry was more potent.

No government is here forever. And there are other forces - the most potent force in our society, in fact, big business - doing good for the environment.

Take air quality in the United States today: It's about 30 percent better than it was 25 years ago, even though there are now more people driving more cars.

The Norse held values that would not allow them to deal with... pagans and certainly would not let them eat fish and hunt ringed seals the way these pagans did. So here is a case where the values that sustained them for 450 years ultimately killed them. The United States faces similar agonizing reappraisals today.

We can't manipulate some stars while maintaining other stars as controls; we can't start and stop ice ages, and we can't experiment with designing and evolving dinosaurs.

Domesticated plants and animals yield far more calories per acre than do wild habitats, in which most species are inedible to humans.

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American Scientist, Civilization Scholar, Geographer and Author