The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal


How different is man from our closest ancestors? How  much do we have in common? Is man really no more than hairless primate that has learned to walk on two legs? Or have we evolved some more peculiar innate traits that distinguish us from the apes?

Further questions beckon. Why did such a great imbalance of wealth and power in human societies come about, with much of it centered in Eurasia? Will man destroy itself in the end?

These questions are squarely tackled by the book The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond.

This is an easy to read book that brings together a wide range of disciples, such as genetics, anthropology, evolutionary biology. It also covers both our evolutionary past, our current behaviors and situations, and our future as a species. Covering such a wide range of topics, it’s written with a conversational tone that makes a pleasure to read.

The title The Third Chimpanzee refers to fact that if we base it on genetic similarities it would be more appropriate to classify ourselves as a  third species of Chimpanzee, the other two being the common chimpanzee and the bonobo. There is only a 1.6% difference between chimps and human, in contrast, chimps and gorillas differ by 2.3%. Thus the chimp’s closest relatives are not other apes with which they are categorized, but humans.

The Common Chimpanzee
The Common Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

In the first part. he author takes time comparing and contrasting ourselves with other chimps and other primates and seeing ourselves in the same lens a zoologist would study an animal.

The author places a lot of emphasis in the development of language as a catalyst for the meteoric progress of humankind. He also takes the readers on a fascinating discussion relating human sexuality, mate selection and reproduction to our lives as primates or our evolutionary past.

In the last part of the book he delves into the ability of human to destroy ourselves with nuclear warfare or induce a catastrophic collapse of civilization with irreversible environmental degradation.

The book you’ll buy will be updated versions which contain latest studies on genetics and other insights which were not available when the book was written in 1991.

Bonobos (Pan paniscus)
Bonobos or “Pygmy Chimpanzees” (Pan paniscus)

The books is divided into these different parts: the chimpanzee’s closest relatives (part one), sexual selection (parts two and three), world conquest (part four) and environmental impact and extinction. The other books Jared Diamond wrote seem correspond to books he wrote in the future. Why is Sex Fun? An Evolution of Human Sexuality (1997) stems from the first three parts of his book. The part of his book on world conquest contains a lot of what he wrote in his Pulitzer Prize winning  Guns, Germs, and Steel : The Fates of Human Societies (1997). His book  Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) naturally corresponds to the last part of the book.

Even though the other books Jared Diamond wrote after The Third Chimpanzee can be seen expansions of some his ideas in this book, I’d still buy this book mainly for his examination on humans in the eyes of a zoologist and its focus on examining man as a third species of chimp, and the great wit and pleasure you would get from reading it.
A link to the latest edition of the book on Amazon can found here.

There is one more book which Jared Diamond wrote entitled The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies (2012).