Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond — author of the best-sellers Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Third Chimpanzee and Collapse — will give a lecture at Campbell Hall discussing the geographic and anthropologic explorations of his book The World Until Yesterday this Saturday at 3 p.m.
In The World Until Yesterday, the author and UCLA geography professor uses his extensive field work in Papua New Guinea — in addition to other first-hand anthropological research — to argue that modern-day issues like obesity and the waning importance of elders can be solved by observing ancestral customs and practices. The talk will be followed by an open Q&A session with the author and will conclude with a book signing.
UCSB Arts & Lectures Associate Director Roman Baratiak said Diamond’s success is due to his ability to make complex ideas clear to non-experts and other ordinary citizens.
“What’s good about Jared Diamond’s books, and about him in terms of his presentations, is that it’s of interest to specialists and academics … but it’s also very accessible to a general public audience, whether that’s students or the community, because of the way he writes and presents it,” Baratiak said. “He’s really trying to communicate to the broader public.”
While archaeology professor Michael Jochim applauds Diamond’s public appeal, he said readers should look at Diamond’s work as an incentive to delve further into anthropology instead of regarding it as absolute anthropological truth.
“I’ve talked to so many friends who are not in anthropology or history who are enthralled by his accounts and have their eyes opened … [but] I’ve always cautioned, ‘Don’t take it as a gospel truth,’” Jochim said.
According to Jochim, Diamond invites a wide range of attendees into the discussion by simplifying aspects of social change, such as environmental factors and the differences between modern and tribal cultures.
“I think that goes back to the service he performs … If he [oversimplifies] to a point … that’s fine as long as people realize that it’s probably not quite so simple,” Jochim said. “Start thinking about those factors, but be open to thinking about [more complex aspects].”
Jochim added that Diamond’s greatest value is his ability to step back from specific historical events and recognize general patterns, giving him the capability to break down ancient history into a more understandable and accessible framework.
“I’m interested because he takes a broad view of social change and … can gather lots of information and construct a coherent framework — right or wrong,” Jochim said. “He’s one of the big thinkers about this sweep of history and I’m interested in that, too.”
Regardless of specialization, Jochim said all students have a reason to attend since the event will offer attendees the chance to gain further understanding of history’s overall connection to present-day problems.
“[Students should attend to] gain greater awareness of the past [and] to gain greater awareness of the importance of such factors as overpopulation, resource overuse and stress, even climate and global warming — just important factors that are in the background of whatever events happen day-to-day.”
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 11th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.