HCAU Reviews: The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee

If you’re looking for something new to read, or something a little bit different, then this may be the book for you. Jared Diamond’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee takes a fresh perspective on human and animal relationships, especially in the case of our closest relations: chimpanzees. Diamond argues that humans can be considered a third chimpanzee, alongside the common and pygmy chimps, as we share around 99% of our DNA with them. Part one of the five part book explores the similarities between us and our closest animal relatives, examining the process by which we diverged from a common ancestor. This section also looks at the possible reasons for why we are the only remaining species of hominid when there used to be more.


The other sections of the book go on to look at the ways in which we are similar to, as well as how we differ from, other animal species. At first glance, it would be easy to assume that there are more differences than there could be similarities. For instance, no other animal species has a language system as developed as ours. However, Diamond investigates various examples of animal precedents for most of our behaviours, from making art to committing genocide. In many ways we are not as unique as we seem.


One thing to bear in mind is that this book was published in 1991, and although that isn’t long ago by most standards, the world of science moves pretty fast. That is not to say you shouldn’t trust what the book says, but be aware that discoveries are being made all the time. For instance, the lack of shared DNA between humans and Neanderthals is discussed, however, in recent years it has been discovered that modern humans living outside of Africa do have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in them. Although this by no means invalidates the interesting and insightful points the book raises.


The final section examines the ways in which we are, as modern humans, managing to reverse much of the evolutionary work that has set us in this privileged position. From exterminating one another on a mass scale, to destroying much of our own environment, this is something we need to be aware of. Although this isn’t the cheeriest note to end on, it is the most poignant. This is an excellent read to open you up to new ideas, and old ideas conceived of in a fresh way. Plus, as well as learning a lot in the process, it is a book that will leave you thinking for a long time after!

(image: http://images.bookcrossing.com/images/journalpics/283/98/cover/300_28302...)