The third chimpanzee : the evolution and future of the human animal

by Jared Diamond

Paperback, 1993




New York, NY : HarperPerennial, 1993


The Development of an Extraordinary Species We human beings share 98 percent of our genes with chimpanzees. Yet humans are the dominant species on the planet -- having founded civilizations and religions, developed intricate and diverse forms of communication, learned science, built cities, and created breathtaking works of art -- while chimps remain animals concerned primarily with the basic necessities of survival. What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? In this fascinating, provocative, passionate, funny, endlessly entertaining work, renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world . . . and the means to irrevocably destroy it.… (more)

Media reviews

To this day, those who see our species as part of the animal kingdom continue to lock horns with those who see us as separate. While zoologists treat humans as mere animals -- and not even particularly unusual ones given the incredible diversity of life -- many social scientists still place us somewhere between heaven and earth. What is particularly attractive about Jared Diamond's book, "The Third Chimpanzee," is that he tries to strike a balance.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Periodista
Really the first draft for Guns, Germs and Steel and even of the follow-up, Collapse. I read those books a long time ago and I still get a deja vu feeling all over again reading, for example, about the environmental collapse of Easter Island. If you haven't read Guns, Germs and Steel--the story about everything--drop this immediately and read it. Then Collapse, I guess.

It is sort of interesting to see that he didn't have much of the over-arching theory yet re why some societies (continents, civilizations) developed so fast because of the tools and domesticated animals they had. Here, there's more emphasis on why humans came out ahead of some of our close brethern but not a lot more.

I'm slightly interested to see how he updated this in 2006, but doubt it's an essential for any library. One interesting thing: He was wondering where the next genocide would be and notes those by the Tutsi of the Hutu in Burundi in the 1972 and by Hutu of of the Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1960s. How often do you see those two precursors brought up? Of course the Serbian cleansing of Muslims was to come soon. His point is that there have always been mass murder of "the other"--not possible to miss for someone who has spent time in New Guinea. Genocide didn't surface in the modern day, any more than humans' extinction of animals did (see, for example, the Maoris' rapid extinction of so much of NZ's fauna). For the most part, though, the book is rather superficial and wanting in anthropological and historical underpinnings, especially for areas of the world beyond ANZ-Pacific and North America.
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LibraryThing member ohernaes
Three types of chimps: Common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), Bonobo (Pan paniscus), Humans (Homo sapiens). Should really be grouped together as the genus Homo.

Big game hunting leading to cooperation exaggerated when it comes to why humans developed as they did. If hunting important, rather because fighting between human groups enforced cooperation for defending oneself. But language most important of all, in communicating and preserving knowledge.

Good chapter on perils of agriculture. Humans chose cheap calories vs limiting population growth. Diamond clearly things that latter option would have been better, but it would have been nice if he had discussed that particular trade-off a little more.

First contact with modern world will soon end, and that will mean fewer experiments in how to organize human society.

Europe very linguistically homogenous.

Savage hunt for and killing of original inhabitants in Australia introduces the long history of human genocide. The difference now is that we have become powerful enough to extinct the human race.

Flirts with how traditional societies may have been better places to live, but does not come clearly out. Emphasizes the benefits of modern societies less than what he came to do in The world until yesterday. It is interesting how all the subsequent books Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), Collapse (2005) and The World Until Yesterday (2012) are contained as subchapters in this book.
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LibraryThing member jmattas
I read Diamond's first book last, and because of that the reading experience suffered somewhat, since this one holds similar elements as the later, more detailed treatises. Anyway, this was still interesting, thanks to the analysis of human sexuality, and the origin of art and language. Also the origin of the Indo-European languages was fascinating. That particular chapter made me want to seek out more information on the topic.

As always, Diamond presents his ideas in a simple, convincing way, easy for a layman to believe... I liked how he went "out on a limb" and gave his speculations in addition to recognized facts.

One thing which I didn't like (or agree with) was his awful pessimism concerning the possibility of humans ever meeting extra-terrestrial beings. His main argument seemed to be the inevitable extinction of the human race, whereas I tend to believe in people. We will survive!
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LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
Most of the content in this book was written up (a little better) in his other books Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse. This books felt like it was essentially a collection of elongated articles with a little more conversational/ less didactic tone than those books which had more of a thesis/argument approach. Most chapters were interesting by themselves and could probably stand alone just fine. They were strung together alright, but I didn't have too hard a time either putting the book down for a bit or picking right back up and reading large chunks very quickly.… (more)
LibraryThing member petrojoh
A book full of half-completed ideas. Lacking solid evidence.
LibraryThing member DarkWater
Borrowing insight from a multitude of scientific fields, Diamond retells the human story in unwavering honesty. He places a spotlight on human sexuality and aging, the role of linguistics and art, and our adoption of agriculture and animal husbandry, not forgetting to mention our seemingly inate propensities towards addiction, genocide, and fellow species extinction. See also The Moral Animal by Wright.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clueless
The Third Chimpanzee-Jared Diamond

I picked this book up on a lark when I was in an airport. It didn’t really capture my attention at first. I found myself constantly in contention with the idea in evolution that everything has to have a ‘why’. The reasoning is--I believe--that every trait of man or animal (or plant) has to earn it’s keep by contributing. Don’t know if I buy that argument.

My opinion of vegetarianism is that it’s a sad fact of life that man is a carnivore and everybody should just get over it already.

Somewhere along the scale from bacteria to humans, we have to decide where killing becomes murder, and eating becomes cannibalism. Most people draw those lines between humans and all other species. However, quite a few people are vegetarians, unwilling to eat any animal (yet willing to eat plants). And an increasingly vocal minority, belonging to the animal-rights movement, object to medical experiments on animals—or at least on certain animals. That movement is especially exercised about research on cats and dogs and primates, less concerned about mice, and generally silent about insects and bacteria.

Isn’t this guy a hoot? He points a finger at the hypocrites who just aren’t thinking things through. They’re acting on their emotions, not reason.

Diamond goes through some convoluted arguments to support his views. He tries to justify the Great Leap in biological terms. I can’t still believe that it could have happened without divine intervention. Also he goes on and on about how human DNA is only 1.6% different than chimpanzee BUT didn’t Sapolosky make it clear that genes react to environment and you can’t separate them?

I really liked his holistic approach to history. Many disciplines focus on what they know. Only someone educated in an interdisciplinary way could fuse various ideas to come up with multi-approach explanations of why things happened the way they did.

His ascertain that aging was from multiple causes and that looking for the ONE root of entropy was a wild goose chase made a lot of sense to me. Again, here is an evil perpetrated in the pretext of simplification.

When trying to uncover the purpose of art in evolution Diamond wrote;

“Animals with leisure time can channel it into more lavish signals to outdo the next guy….Those behaviors may then come to serve other purposes such as…channeling neurotic energy(a problem for us…).”

Definitely an entertaining read.
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LibraryThing member KimBooSan
Just an incredible book. Diamond is brilliant and thorough but his work is nonetheless very readable. This book will make you look at humanity in a completely new way.
LibraryThing member sailornate82
An illuminating work describing the most complex animal on the planet: Humans. Each chapter touches on a unique topic, ranging from genetic similarities with chimps, how we select our sexual partners, origins of art, why humans abuse drugs/tobacco/alcohol, et cetera. Some chapters are more interesting than others, but those with a scientific curiosity should enjoy this.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jewsbury
This book considers what it is to be human. Do not be put off by the book’s opening. In the main, Diamond presents a fascinating tale of our origins, history and current choices. Furthermore he should be applauded for tendering some thought provoking personal opinions.

For instance, he proposes that we could treat chimps as part of the human family (genus). He feels that European global empires became dominant because of contingencies of geography. He lists humanity’s distinctive aspects as the possession of art, language and a lengthy maturity, a unique set of sexual behaviours, and an unfortunate propensity for drug abuse and genocide. Whilst unmatched in degree by other animals on Earth, these characteristics all have evolutionary forerunners which we can detect in other creatures.

His accounts are generally broadminded – more so than other later works. Thus he excuses the past as a period of our ignorance. Yet this excuse cannot hold for the present which looks like a period of irresponsible neglect of the environment. His message is that we must learn from the clear evidence of our earlier errors. Indeed it seems that the world may be losing as many as 17 species of biota every hour. It should concern us that we do not really know what the consequences of any of these losses will be. Nonetheless he concludes that this is a time for repair not despair.
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LibraryThing member ppendharkar
Jared can be somewhat repetitive at times, but his writing is lucid, intriguing and very informative. I loved the book along will all other Diamond's books.
LibraryThing member landofashes
Don't be put off by the fact that this is the Winner of the 1992 Science Book Prize - Jared Diamond ia a talented writer, biologist and thinker.
LibraryThing member addunn3
Excellent book, well written. Discusses why humans have come out on top of the heap though our genetic makeup varies little from chimps. What does our genetics tell us about our future? Updated information from the 1992 edition.
LibraryThing member bduguid
"The Third Chimpanzee" was Diamond's first major book, and it sows the seeds for his three more recent works, "Why is Sex Fun?", "Guns, Germs and Steel", and "Collapse". Many of the chapters here introduce the ideas of the later books prior to their later expansion and development.

Diamond's aim is to view human history through the lens of biology: given that we are about 98% genetically identical to chimps, what light does that shed on our own life-cycle, culture, history and destiny?

The book's first section briefly documents our genetic history - our divergence from a proto-chimp ancestor, and the development of homo sapiens over about six million years (homo erectus, homo habilis etc). Diamond is always keen to draw out the political implications of his science, and suggests that if we were to label chimps as "homo troglodytes" rather than "pan troglodytes", we might make different ethical decisions about their treatment. I found this first section all too-brief - I'd have liked to see a lot more detail on the biological commonalities and differences between humans and chimps.

The second section reviews the human life-cycle, particulary our sexuality - why are we monogamous? How do we choose mates? What can sexual selection suggest about human races? This draws heavily on comparisons and contrasts with other animal species and I found it all interesting.

The third section covers the evolution of things that might seem "uniquely human" - language, art, agriculture, drug use - and traces animal precursors to see whether we really are as unique as we think. I found all of this to be far too brief - a whole book on this area would have been interesting. I did find sympathy with Diamond's argument that the development of agriculture was as much a curse as a blessing (being the source of the apparatus for political oppression). There are strong similarities here to the ideas of radicals like John Zerzan who has expanded on the same theme.

The next section enters the territory of "Guns, Germs and Steel", discussing how much of human history has been determined by geographical and biological accident e.g. the difficulty in migrating crops across continents with a strong north-south axis (Africa and America) leading to a slower pace of development. This section also asks why the human race seems to be prone to genocide, again with a strong political slant.

The final section covers extinction - both analysing the countless past extinctions of other species that humans have caused, and the implications for our own future.

Throughout, the book's willingness to spell out political implications is very welcome. I also appreciated the extent to which the content draws on Diamond's own extensive work in New Guinea. On the downside, there are just too many ideas here, and it would be nice to see them all explored at greater length - although of course that's exactly what the author has since done in other books.
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LibraryThing member jimocracy
As usual, Diamond delivers a thought-provoking book. It was interesting to follow the evolution of our species, as compared with our chimpanzee cousins. I'm not sure of the scientific viability of his "humans as a third species of chimpanzee" hypothesis but it made for an excellent framework with which to shape the narrative.

Much of the early book delved into evolutionary science but the author couldn't help but to slide back into subject matter from previous books (i.e. Guns, Germs, and Steel), with some evolutionary parallels. After reading this book, I was struck with the notion that humans (modern and ancient) are more alike than we often think. Overall, this was a great read; informative and entertaining.… (more)
LibraryThing member GlennBell
This book contains an excellent discusion of our past, present, and probable future. This information is vital to our understanding of how to lessen or slow the impact of our self destruction. Unfortunately, too few people know this information or care about the future. Thus, although the knowledge exists the will to change does not exist in sufficient strenght to overcome the unfavorable effects of our destructive behavior.… (more)
LibraryThing member mirrani
The beginning of this book was well written and fascinating to read. There were actually witty remarks that had me amused in parts, which you wouldn't expect from something so scientific. The explanations for how humans developed behaviors and the comparisons with chimps and other animals in order to help with those explanations were easy to associate with and really helped with the taking in of the information. The text didn't treat the readers like award winning scientists, but it didn't dumb everything up for the ignorant either.

By the last 100 pages of the book I became frustrated, however. As long as the book was actually doing what was expected of it and comparing us to chimps and explaining our evolution, I was content, but once it switched to how we were destroying our environment, it became less of "this is why we do what we do" to "this is how the demise of the world will come about." There wasn't even really a connection to humans beyond that we killed things. I'm not saying it wasn't well written, but it simply wasn't as mind-catching the way the first 200 pages were.

Definitely worth the read for the amazing revelations put forward about human nature and the ways of some animals. I know that I will forever have friends check the lengths of their middle fingers against their spouses from this point onward.
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LibraryThing member robrod1
Like all of Jared Diamond's books, it was simply super. Like Guns, Germs and Steel, this is a book all should read.
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
I recently commented that I want to be in a Jared Diamond/Simon Winchester talk sandwich, and that was before Diamond mentioned in this the early C20 discovery in a cave monastery in Chinese Turkestan of manuscripts that put the origin of the Proto Indo-European language into the Caucasus instead of the farther west previously hypothesized. I'm pretty sure that discovery is the same one Winchester refers to in The Man Who Loved China. So now I know what I'm going to investigate next.

From 1992, this book's scholarship is occasionally dated already. That's my fault for not reading it earlier. I do like his tone and accessibility.
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LibraryThing member LibraryCin
This one looks at humans as animals and compares them to our wild counterparts. It looks at evolution, culture, genocide, language, sex, art, and more. It also looks at how we are affecting the planet and other species.

This might be my favourite Diamond book. I think the closer look at other species is what did that for me. I listened to the audio.… (more)
LibraryThing member jigarpatel
Some notes as I read..

Very early on Diamond sets his stall. He's not interested in intricate molecular insights, but an overarching evolutionary basis for human lifecycle and behaviour. Sometimes he digresses, like when he talks for no obvious purpose about how the relatively large size of the male penis is unexplained, when really it might just be chance: there may be no direct impact to passing one's seed and it's really not a driver of natural selection.

Ageing, bizarrely in my view, is described as many unconnected factors (deteriorating eyesight and smell, weaker bones, failing heart) converging over time so that they fail optimally around the same time. Why maintain one feature when others are failing? More likely, shortening telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes cause most if not all these conditions. The notion that one underlying cause can be expressed in many different ways is dismissed offhandedly.
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LibraryThing member _Greg
Humans are genetically so close to the two species of chimpanzees and have so much in common with them that only our vanity puts us in a separate genus. In this delightful, fascinating and illuminating book Jared Diamond sheds much light on human nature and also makes a strong case for their being three species of chimpanzee: pan, bonobo and homo.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lukerik
Well, he's consistently interesting. It's not the book it claims to be on the cover. I was expecting a thorough comparison between human and chimp and that's not what this is. It's more a look at human history through the light of a variety of theories, not all of which I subscribe to - in fact, some of them have been disproved since publication. Very thought provoking though. The book is marred by a preaching tone, which increases as the book goes on. Worth reading for the facts.… (more)
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Non-fiction often has a limited shelf life. After about 20 years, much of the science and data upon which that science is developed is out-dated. New data and new science make such older books obsolete, or at least of lesser interest. The third chimpanzee. The evolution and future of the human animal was originally published in 1992. It's reissue, in 2006, following the success of Jared Diamond's book Collapse. How societies choose to fail or succeed, almost 15 years later, was justified, also because of the help the book could offer at better understanding the new book. But reading The third chimpanzee. The evolution and future of the human animal now, in 2016, almost 25 years after original publication, makes it clear the the book not a classic, and much of its thesis is outdated.

The third chimpanzee. The evolution and future of the human animal is very much a book of the pessimistic 1970s and 1980s, a period in which people believed that the desctruction of the world and the end of the human race by nuclear obliteration was imminent. The structure of the book, as also the title suggest, reflects this belief. The book aims to describe the beginnings of mankind and its end.

Describing the evolution and devlopment of humanity on such a large scale also means that the book is not much more than a primer, and the author must be a mere layman in many of the field he touches upon in the book. Chapters about the prehistory of man, evolutionary biology and the development of language are superficial and sketchy. Particularly the chapters about the devlopment of modern man out of a succession of generations of hominids now shows the weakness of the book, in that many new discoveries leading to new insight have been made over the past 25 years. The portrayal of Neaderthal man in the book by Diamond is still very much the image of the uncultured brute that circulated in the 1980s. New finds or evidence that Neanderthals had a sense of artistic expression are not evidenced in the book. New DNA research also clearly establishes the presence of Neanderthal DNA in the DNA of modern man. Diamond's conclusions that interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthal man is unlikely because no fossil remains of such offspring have been found is simply an argument that is too weak.

The third chimpanzee. The evolution and future of the human animal is now merely of interest for some snippets of information and facts which may startle, less than develop real insight. For example, the closeness of man to chimpanzee is cleverly demonstrated, although the evidence leans heavily on the importance of quantity rather than quality of difference.
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LibraryThing member daniel.links
I'm a big fan of Jared Diamond. Given the publication date, I'm not sure how up to date some of the historical anthropology necessarily is, and, equally, readers of some of the author's other works will be familiar with some of the arguments put forward here. The book charts humanity's evolution from apes, and asks too, what makes us different (and what doesn't) why, and how it effects the way we live. The book covers everything from finding your partner to genocide, and perhaps because of this breadth seems to lack an overarching theme at times.
You may well disagree with some (or much) of what is written here, but it is an interesting and thought provoking read and raises vital questions about what it is to be human and how we relate to one another and the world.
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