Science writer and scientist Jared Diamond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as well as The World Until Yesterday (2012), Collapse (2005) and The Third Chimpanzee (1992), among other books, was born in Boston on this date in 1937. He earned a degree in history and anthropology from Harvard in 1958 and a doctorate in physiology from Oxford in 1961. In 1968, he became a professor of physiology at UCLA Medical School, but was already developing a parallel career in ornithology and ecology, with extensive fieldwork in New Guinea and nearby islands, where he began to contemplate the influences on human evolution and the advancement of civilization that he detailed in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond was a MacArthur Fellow in 1985 and, among his many international awards, was the 2016 American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year; he is an active member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and The Skeptics Society. Among his key insights is the idea that ecology and geography shape technology and the growth of knowledge far more than any particular people’s culture, religion, or racial/ethnic characteristics. To hear him discussing why societies collapse, look below.
“The broadest pattern of history – namely, the differences between human societies on different continents — seems to me to be attributable to differences among continental environments, and not to biological differences among peoples themselves.”–Jared Diamond