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.

Above all, it seems to me wrongheaded and dangerous to invoke historical assumptions about environmental practices of native peoples in order to justify treating them fairly. ... By invoking this assumption [i.e., that they were/are better environmental stewards than other peoples or parts of contemporary society] to justify fair treatment of native peoples, we imply that it would be OK to mistreat them if that assumption could be refuted. In fact, the case against mistreating them isn't based on any historical assumption about their environmental practices: it's based on a moral principle, namely, that it is morally wrong for one people to dispossess, subjugate or exterminate another people.

Easter Island collapsed in not just an epidemic of civil war but cannibalism. Of all the collapses of the past, I find the one that grabs people the most is that of Easter Island.

Human societies vary in lots of independent factors affecting their openness to innovation.

Isn't language loss a good thing, because fewer languages mean easier communication among the world's people? Perhaps, but it's a bad thing in other respects. Languages differ in structure and vocabulary, in how they express causation and feelings and personal responsibility, hence in how they shape our thoughts. There's no single purpose best language; instead, different languages are better suited for different purposes. For instance, it may not have been an accident that Plato and Aristotle wrote in Greek, while Kant wrote in German. The grammatical particles of those two languages, plus their ease in forming compound words, may have helped make them the preeminent languages of western philosophy. Another example, familiar to all of us who studied Latin, is that highly inflected languages (ones in which word endings suffice to indicate sentence structure) can use variations of word order to convey nuances impossible with English. Our English word order is severely constrained by having to serve as the main clue to sentence structure. If English becomes a world language, that won't be because English was necessarily the best language for diplomacy.

One could say that Patagonia is radically environmentalist, a company that's founded on those principles. But there are other examples, too. I spoke at a World Wildlife Fund dinner fundraiser last October hosted and funded by Starbucks.

Tasmanians actually abandoned some technologies that they brought with them from Australia and that persisted on the Australian mainland. For example, bone tools and the practice of fishing were both present in Tasmania at the time that the land bridge was severed, and both disappeared from Tasmania by around 1500 B.C.

The problem is that only a tiny minority of wild plants and animals lend themselves to domestication, and those few are concentrated in about half a dozen parts of the world.

We're uncomfortable about considering history as a science. It's classified as a social science, which is considered not quite scientific.

African cavalry mounted on rhinos or hippos would have made mincemeat of European cavalry mounted on horses. But it couldn't happen.

Eurasia ended up with the most domesticated animal species in part because it's the world's largest land mass and offered the most wild species to begin with.

Humans have been evolving for millions of years longer in Africa than in Europe, and even anatomically modern Homo sapiens may have reached Europe from Africa only within the last 50,000 years. If time were a critical factor in the development of human societies, Africa should have enjoyed an enormous head start and advantage over Europe.

It seems logical to suppose that history's pattern reflects innate differences among people themselves. Of course, we're taught that it's not polite to say so in public. We see in our daily lives that some of the conquered peoples continue to form an underclass, centuries after the conquests or slave imports took place. We're told that this too is to be attributed not to any biological shortcomings but to social disadvantages and limited opportunities. Nevertheless, we have to wonder. We keep seeing all those glaring, persistent differences in peoples' status. We're assured that the seemingly transparent biological explanation for the world's inequalities as of A.D. 1500 is wrong, but we're not told what the correct explanation is. Until we have some convincing, detailed, agreed-upon explanation for the broad pattern of history, most people will continue to suspect that the racist biological explanation is correct after all. That seems to me the strongest argument for writing this book.

One way to explain the complexity and unpredictability of historical systems, despite their ultimate determinacy, is to note that long chains of causation may separate final effects from ultimate causes lying outside the domain of that field of science.

Technology causes problems as well as solves problems. Nobody has figured out a way to ensure that, as of tomorrow, technology won't create problems. Technology simply means increased power, which is why we have the global problems we face today.

The rate of human invention is faster, and the rate of cultural loss is slower, in areas occupied by many competing societies with many individuals and in contact with societies elsewhere.

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American Scientist, Civilization Scholar, Geographer and Author