The Third Chimpanzee

by Jared Diamond. HarperCollins, $25.00. Early in his provocative text Mr. Diamond proposes that if a group of human beings were deprived of clothes and speech and confined in a zoo alongside the chimp cages, “a zoologist from Outer Space would immediately classify us as just a third species of chimpanzee. . . There is a catch to this notion, because without speech the caged specimens would not be human, and that visitor from Outer Space, who appears more than once, turns out to be merely a device to support assumptions for which the author has no solid evidence. He does, however, have evidence for much of what he discusses concerning human evolution, drawing material from biology, anthropology, archaeology, history, and linguistics. He considers, most ingeniously, the ways in which animals display traits that can be viewed as similar to the use of tools and artistic creation. He examines cultures, like that of the Anasazi, that disappeared because the people destroyed the resources of their environment. He implies that he will explain how the genetic difference—which is less than two percent—between human beings and chimpanzees accounts for art, invention, language, and our ability to live anywhere on earth, usually damaging the area when we get to it. This promise is never kept, but Mr. Diamond succeeds well in his intention to arouse intelligent concern for social and environmental reform, and he offers some odd and even amusing information while doing so.
—Phoebe-Lou Adams