What can we learn from traditional societies? That is the subtitle and question at the heart of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday. Diamond, who has given us plenty to think about in previous books (Guns, Germs and Steel, Collapse, The Third Chimpanzee), explores some of the different ways that traditional societies approach issues such as justice, child rearing and language, contrasting them with the general approach of the complex state societies most of the rest of us live in. The book promises a look at the diversity of human responses to typical situations by societies (bands, tribes and chiefdoms) that have a longer historical foundation than those state societies. Diamond seems intent on avoiding romanticizing these societies, warning that they will offer as many bad lessons as good. The first chapter offers a look at land use (and the level of exclusive use by several cultures); the definitions of friends, enemies and strangers; and the how trade is transacted between different tribes.
Currently Reading (fiction): Southern Haunts Part 2: Devils in the Darkness edited by Alexander S. Brown & Louise Myers
Although I am only three stories and a poem into this anthology of demon themed short stories, if the quality of the writing fails to improve I may regret the purchase. I get the idea that most of these writers understand the subject that they wish to write about, but that few of them have heard that most basic of writing advice “show, don’t tell.” Sure, I’m willing to accept a certain level of exposition in order to set the stage for a story, but these stories seem to be composed almost entirely of exposition, explaining things about the character’s past or the devils and demons plaguing them rather than constructing scenes where the characters act and interact with other elements of the story. A story titled The Battle of Vicksburg doesn’t even have any characters, but sets the stage for some kind of supernatural conflict between a demon and former Civil War Generals Lee and Grant. The narrative is told in the second person, not a particular problem except that there is no character attached to that perspective, so I’m not sure that it technically is a short story. But I’m still reading, with the hope that there are better stories in the remaining pages.