As a social scientist, Jared Diamond is interested in how human societies have developed and fared over the millennia, and he has continually striven to understand the broad patterns of human behavior across the globe. For him, answering questions about how and why different human societies evolved over time under various environmental and social conditions is critical, and approaching these issues using data from a number of disciplines is essential.
Diamond was initially trained in the biological sciences and later began studying the ecology, evolution, and biogeography of birds in New Guinea in the 1960s. He subsequently led nearly 20 expeditions to New Guinea and nearby islands to study bird species (including the rediscovery of the golden fronted bowerbird) and developed a conservationist plan for Indonesian New Guinea’s national park system. His commitment to analyzing and preserving the environment led him to becoming a founding member of the board for the Society of Conservation Biology and a member of the Board of Directors for the World Wildlife Fund (USA).
Because of his efforts, Diamond was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is also the winner of several prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Perhaps most important, however, is his determination to make complex ideas and theories accessible to a wide audience.
During the 1980s, Diamond became fascinated with environmental history and began integrating the disciplines of anthropology, linguistics, history, biology, and history to investigate the technological advances of humans worldwide. In particular, he was concerned about the social and environmental factors that led to certain outcomes or disasters. One of Diamond’s first major works to explore these issues was The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. In this book, he focused on how the human species (which shares much of the same genetic material as chimpanzees), developed the unique ability to form religious thought; create language, art, and science; and form complex civilizations. He noted the irony that these advancements have also allowed humans to acquire the means to instantly destroy these achievements. He has authored eight books and hundreds of scientific articles, many of which have recently focused on the role environment plays in the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.
In his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1999), for which The Third Chimpanzee is considered a precursor, Diamond explores the geographical and environmental reasons why some human groups have prospered more than others. His most recent book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004), tries to explain why ancient societies such as the Anasazi of the American Southwest fell apart and what modern society can learn from the fates of others.
Although not specifically trained as an anthropologist, Diamond has contributed significantly to discussions of how human societies have evolved and the unfortunate outcomes that result when populations fail to see the errors of their ways. As one of the leading scholars in understanding environmental-human relations, he has brought many social issues into the forefront of public interest and inquiry and brought forth new ways of understanding how the evolution of our species took place and how we can use the past to teach us about both the present and the future.
- Diamond, J. M. (1992). The third chimpanzee: The evolution and future of the human animal. New York: Perennial.
- Diamond, J. M. (1999). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York: Norton.
- Diamond, J. M. (2004). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking Press.