Jim Al-Khalili talks to Jared Diamond about how his passion for the birds of Papua New Guinea overtook his medical interest in the gall bladder, and led him to undertake a scientific study of global history.
Science polymath and celebrated author, Jared Diamond has tackled some of the big questions about humanity: what is it that makes us uniquely human not just a third species of chimpanzee; and why do some societies thrive and others struggle to survive, or collapse?
Once a Professor of Physiology (specialising in the gall bladder), he became increasingly fascinated by the birds of Papua New Guinea and does an excellent imitation of the ptilinopus fruit dove, among others.
Now Professor of Geography at University of California in LA, he stresses the vital importance of the environment in determining the success or otherwise of a society. He argues first that it was settled agriculture that enabled the white man to develop guns, germs and steel and later that abuse of the environment is often responsible for their collapse.
But can the history of humanity really be understood in much the same way as we might seek to explain the success or otherwise of a particular species of bird?