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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Posted on the 18 September 2021 by Cheekymeeky

When I first heard of this book, I was skeptical. How on earth could Harari condense millions of years of history into less than 500 pages? And then, the graphic novel version came out, which tempted Snubnose. Before buying the graphic version for her (hardcover is the only option available where I live, and pretty expensive), I thought I'd check out Harari's ideas first and find out for myself what he has to say.

About the Book

How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?

In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical - and sometimes devastating - breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology, and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behavior from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the centuries to come? ~ Synopsis from Goodreads

My Review

As a child, I was the kid who would read history extensively. I consistently alarmed my teachers by writing my exams with content sourced from many books (not just the school textbook) - something of an anomaly in Indian schools, where history is still considered a subject meant only for the duds who couldn't cope with the sciences.

Anyway, I just mentioned that little titbit to say that I have read many different takes on history - especially the origin of homo sapiens and our early development. But Harari's take on the reasons for our growth was pretty eye-opening.

He postulates that our willingness to believe in collective fictions has been the secret to our growth - the tales could be religious, economic (and this portion was incredibly eye-opening), cultural, or national. But these fictions enable us to cooperate and sacrifice and work together to achieve shared goals. I loved this hypothesis, and it helped to put a lot of historical events in place for me.

That said, there were some other things he hypothesized that seemed a bit outlandish? It felt like he went on his rabbit hole without providing adequate evidence for his beliefs. This hypothesis is that the early hunter-gatherers led a much better life individually. Once agriculture became the norm, people as a whole did better, but individual's quality of life dipped significantly.

I looked through the bibliography, and I felt he didn't have enough references to substantiate this claim. The bibliography is pretty scant in general.

And once the book entered the modern era, it felt like there was nothing new he had to offer in his book. He breezes through the internet and robotics - just touching on them lightly, and it felt like a mish-mash of popular science articles and science-fiction movies. To be fair, this book was published in 2011 before the massive leap in social media. That said, it is quite a tell that he doesn't touch on an area that has had so much impact on our lives, behavior patterns, and general well-being in the last ten years.

He ends the book on a provocative note - comparing us to Gods.

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?

Obviously, this is a segue into his sequel Homo Deus - where he attempts to tell the future.

I am not sure how correct his predictions will be - but I look forward to him sparking something in my imagination.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sapiens a History of HumankindYuval Noah Harari

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