The Man Who Knows Too Much
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enough that the lady proved to be fat and with her husband. What
humiliated my self-image as intrepid explorer was the University
of Wisconsin sweatshirt she wore."
New Guinea, in Diamond's view, is "as good a model as we have left
today of what much of the rest of the human world was once like."
A thousand different languages survive on the island, many as different
from one another as English is from Japanese. Some have no apparent
relationship to any other language on earth. Even the dauntless
Diamond, who nearly chucked his scientific career to become a linguist
when he was in graduate school, began to see his limits here. "I
realized that, yes, it was great fun learning Foré," he recalls,
"but [I thought], 'Jared, you can't learn a new language every month
- you've got to learn the lingua franca'" Pidgin English
for the eastern half of New Guinea and Indonesian for the western
half. Diamond estimates he speaks about 12 languages, but only English
and German with any fluency. He is probably being modest.
and rather reserved, Diamond is not one of those people who constantly
snap open their superior intellect like an umbrella. He is straightforward
and seems to have a pretty casual attitude toward his own brain.
His close friend Alan Grinnell, chairman of the Department of Physiological
Science in the College of Letters and Science, recalls that when
they were both undergraduates at Harvard, Diamond would carelessly
leave his biochemistry exams lying around on hall tables
perfect 100 percent scores plus bonus points.
a sophomore Diamond discovered that Harvard had an annual Latin
prize for the student who best translated a Latin poem by Horace
into English. Diamond, who had prepped at the Roxbury Latin School
outside Boston (after a birdwatching third-grade teacher had inspired
him to become a fanatical birder by age 7) won the Harvard Latin
Prize that year, then again the next year, and then again the next.
"He'd probably have won it four years in a row if he'd known about
it as a freshman," Grinnell says. "You can imagine how the classics