The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal
Though we share 98 percent of our genes with the chimpanzee, our species evolved into something quite extraordinary. Jared Diamond explores the fascinating question of what in less than 2 percent of our genes has enabled us to found civilizations and religions, develop intricate languages, create art, learn science—and acquire the capacity to destroy all our achievements overnight. The Third Chimpanzee is a tour de force, an iconoclastic, entertaining, sometimes alarming look at the unique and marvelous creature that is the human animal.
This book was also published under the title Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: Evolution and Human Life.
Jared Diamond states the theme of his book up-front: “How the human species changed, within a short time, from just another species of big mammal to a world conqueror; and how we acquired the capacity to reverse all that progress overnight.” The Third Chimpanzee is, in many ways, a prequel to Diamond’s prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel. While Guns examines “the fates of human societies,” this work surveys the longer sweep of human evolution, from our origin as just another chimpanzee a few million years ago. Diamond writes:
It’s obvious that humans are unlike all animals. It’s also obvious that we’re a species of big mammal down to the minutest details of our anatomy and our molecules. That contradiction is the most fascinating feature of the human species.
The chapters in The Third Chimpanzee on the oddities of human reproductive biology were later expanded in Why Is Sex Fun? Here, they’re linked to Diamond’s views of human psychology and history.
Diamond is officially a physiologist at UCLA medical school, but he’s also one of the best birdwatchers in the world. The current scientific consensus that “primitive” humans created ecological catastrophes in the Pacific islands, Australia, and the New World owes a great deal to his fieldwork and insight. In Diamond’s view, the current global ecological crisis isn’t due to modern technology per se, but to basic weaknesses in human nature. But, he says, “I’m cautiously optimistic. If we will learn from our past that I have traced, our own future may yet prove brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees.” —Mary Ellen Curtin