Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA, is the author most recently of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. (June 2012)

What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?

Women in Darfur returning from Kutum market to the Fata Borno camp for internally displaced persons under the protection of African Union soldiers, January 2007; photograph by Gary Knight from Questions Without Answers: <i>The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII</i>. The book has just been published by Phaidon.
Power, prosperity, and poverty vary greatly around the world. Norway, the world’s richest country, is 496 times richer than Burundi, the world’s poorest country. Why? That’s a central question of economics. Different economists have different views about the relative importance of the conditions and factors that make countries richer or poorer. The factors they most discuss are so-called “good institutions,” which may be defined as laws and practices that motivate people to work hard, become economically productive, and thereby enrich both themselves and their countries.

Twilight at Easter

No other site that I have visited made such a ghostly impression on me as did Rano Raraku, the quarry on Easter Island where its famous gigantic stone statues were carved. To begin with, the island is the world’s most remote habitable scrap of land, lying far out in the …

The Religious Success Story

“In the beginning, all people lived around a great ironwood tree in the jungle, speaking the same language. One man whose testes were enormously swollen from infection with a parasitic worm spent his time sitting on a branch of the tree, so that he could rest his heavy testes on …

Living on the Moon

To Americans visiting Europe, Iceland recommends itself as a beautiful, friendly, safe tourist destination, whose international airport near Reykjavik is at just the right location to interrupt transatlantic flights for a few days, and whose international airline (Icelandair) is as low-priced as it is reliable. But there is much more …

Why Did the Vikings Vanish?

When moviegoers of my generation hear the word “Vikings,” we picture Chieftain Kirk Douglas leading his bearded barbarians on voyages of raiding, raping, robbing, and killing. There is much truth to that gory image: the Vikings did indeed terrorize medieval Europe for several centuries. In their own language, Old Norse, …

The Golden Phonebook

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s latest book summarizes the life work of this fascinating polymath, who for the last fifty-five years has been developing ingenious methods to understand the history of everybody. I first encountered his methods by chance thirteen years ago while I was browsing my weekly copy of the international …

Outcasts of the Islands

In 1964, while studying bird evolution on the tropical Pacific island of New Guinea, I happened to set up camp among a tribe known as the Fore. I soon found my attention drawn away from birds to a human tragedy unfolding around me. Many of the tribespeople, children as well …

The Roots of Radicalism

The case of the alleged Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, grips our imagination, not least as a psychological mystery of childhood development. Why might he have become a driven serial murderer? At first his curriculum vitae—child of liberal parents, Harvard College graduate, brilliant mathematician—might have seemed to point to another career. What …

Portrait of the Biologist as a Young Man

Nothing is so fascinating or complicated as the trajectory of a human life. We emerge partly programmed at birth, and we change with our experiences thereafter. Some of us finally blow apart in adulthood like long-fuse time bombs, while others grow to shine brightly like comets. Most of us have …