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The Third Chimpanzee

The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

By Jared Diamond
13-minute read
Audio available
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

In The Third Chimpanzee (1991), Jared Diamond explores the evolution of Homo sapiens, which started out like any other animal and gradually became a unique creature capable of producing speech, making art and inventing technology. The book reveals some extraordinary insights about the nature of human beings.

  • Students of history and anthropology
  • People interested in human evolution
  • Readers querying the essence of humankind

Jared Diamond is an exemplary scholar. His career has taken him through several fields and he is now professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’s also published a series of popular science books, including the best-selling Guns Germs and Steel.

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The Third Chimpanzee

The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

By Jared Diamond
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond
Synopsis

In The Third Chimpanzee (1991), Jared Diamond explores the evolution of Homo sapiens, which started out like any other animal and gradually became a unique creature capable of producing speech, making art and inventing technology. The book reveals some extraordinary insights about the nature of human beings.

Key idea 1 of 8

Science shows that humans are more genetically similar to other primates than previously thought.

The similarities between humans and other primates aren’t hard to spot. But exactly how genetically similar are we to our wild cousins, and which ones are our closest relatives?

Scientists are now able to look at the human genome and calculate exactly how alike humans and apes are. The results are pretty striking. We share 96.4 percent of our genes with orangutans, 97.7 percent with gorillas and an incredible 98.6 percent with chimpanzees.

Effectively, that means that a mere 1.4 percent of our DNA distinguishes us from chimpanzees. Of that percentage, only a small amount contains the genetic tools that helped us develop those attributes we consider uniquely human, such as language, art and technology.

In fact, we're so genetically close to chimps that some scientists even consider us part of the same family.

In most encyclopedias, you'll find humans and chimpanzees classed in the same order, the Primates, and the same superfamily, the Hominoidea, but in separate families: the Hominidae for humans and Pongidae for chimpanzees.

However, one school of taxonomy – known as the cladistics – arranges species based on relative genetic distance. Using this method, humans and chimps are part of not only the same family, but even the same genus.

They conceive of not one but three separate species within the Homo genus: Homo troglodytes, the common chimpanzee; Homo paniscus, the bonobo; and us, Homo sapiens.

Being in the same genus means the species are very closely related, so much so that sometimes they might be distinguishable only to experts. Take the willow warblers and the chiffchaffs as an example. These European birds share 97.7 percent of the same DNA and look virtually identical. But they're less closely related to each other than humans are to chimps.

So we’re a lot like our chimp cousins – but it’s our few different characteristics, as well as art, technology and language, that really mark our species out.

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