By Jared Diamond, author of The Third Chimpanzee for Young People: On the Evolution And Future of the Human Animal (Seven Stories, April 2014).
One day, when my twin sons were in middle school, they came home from school angry with me. I wasn’t aware of having done anything particular that day to arouse their wrath, and so I asked them what was the matter. They replied, “Our history teacher has assigned your book to our class to read. We haven’t looked at it yet, but we already know that it’s a bad book. Worst of all, our teacher is inviting you to come to school to talk to our class. We are going to be so embarrassed in front of our friends!”
I duly arrived at my sons’ class, to find my sons sitting in the last row, with faces averted, huddled in uncomfortable postures, and obviously in agony from embarrassment. As I began to talk about my book, their classmates started asking questions and expressing increasingly lively interest. My sons gradually rotated to face forward, relaxed from their cramped posture, and began smiling. They were delighted that their classmates liked my book, and that they didn’t have to be ashamed of me. Since then, my sons have been among my strongest supporters, quick to denounce any criticism of my books.
In fact, I have discovered, soon after publication of my first book for the public, that school students are among my most enthusiastic readers.
Virtually every time that I give a public lecture, there is at least one school class that has come to hear me, ask questions, be photographed with me, and give me some memento that they had prepared. On reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised at this happy outcome. The subjects of my books are whatever has seemed to me to be the biggest and most interesting unanswered question at that time. The style of my books is designed to make them readily understandable: because I grew up with a younger sister to whom I was constantly trying to explain things; and because my writing a book begins with trying to explain its subject matter clearly to myself, and then sharing my understanding with my readers.
I’m delighted that my first book for the public, The Third Chimpanzee, is now being published in a format specifically aimed at young people. I hope that, in this new format, more young people than ever before will discover the excitement of the biggest and most challenging questions about science and history.
Jared Diamond is professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has published more than 200 articles in Discover, Natural History, Nature, and Geo magazines. He is the author of several books including Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and has sold more than 1.5 million copies, the international bestseller Collapse, and the recently published The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?