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Author: Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel)thirdchimpanzee

What is it about? As everyone’s heard, we share 98 percent of our genes with chimpanzees. Why is it then that we’re so dominant on this planet, having founded civilizations, perfected forms of science and developed beautiful works of art? This book looks to explain how that 2 percent difference in DNA has created such a huge divergence between human beings and chimpanzees. This wide-ranging book tackles a number of interesting topics, such as The Science of Adultery, the Origin of the Human Races, Agriculture’s Mixed Blessings, Why Humans Use Dangerous Drugs, and Humans’ Conquering of ‘Inferior’ peoples throughout the ages.

Excerpts:

On sexual selection: “…much of our variability is a by-product of a distinctive feature of the human life cycle: our choosiness with respect to our spouses and sex partners. I don’t know of any other wild animal species in which eye color of different populations can be green, blue, gray, brown, or black, while skin color varies geographically from pale to black and hair is either red, yellow, brown, black, grey, or white. There may be no limits, except those imposed by evolutionary time, on the colors with which sexual selection can adorn us. If humanity survives another twenty thousand years, I predict that there will be women with naturally green hair and red eyes – and men who think such women are the sexiest.”

On genocide: “I recall a scene at Goroka airport in the New Guinea highlands, when my Tudawhe field assistants were standing awkwardly in torn shirts and bare feet, and an unshaven, unbathed white man with a strong Australian accent and hat crumpled over his eyes approached. Even before he begun to sneer at the Tudawhes as “black bums, they won’t be fit to run this country for a century,” I had begun to think to myself, “Dumb Aussie redneck, why doesn’t he go home to his goddamn sheep dip.” There it was, a blueprint for genocide: I scorning the Australian, and he scorning the Tudawhes, based on collective characteristics taken in at a glance.”

My two cents: Although a bit dated (it came out in 1992), The Third Chimpanzee is certainly a worthwhile read. It really made me consider human beings as just another species of animals on planet Earth. It really is remarkable to consider how just a few seemingly small things (opposable thumbs and language, most notably) have led to such an abrupt rise in human development. Diamond does a great job of making us consider how our sudden rise is negatively impacting the planet, and how we need to smarten up if we’re going to have a sustainable planet Earth to pass on to our grandchildren.

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