This has to be one of the weirdest books I have ever read. Once in a while it is advisable to read something outside your area of specialisation. This book really stretched my worldview. A few pages in and my head was already spinning. I say its weird but in a very good and profound manner. It gave me a different view of human beings.
Humans beings developed language, anthropologists tell us, tens of thousands of years ago. Presumably the first spoken utterance was something practical, like “Lions are attacking!” or “Your hair is on fire!” But not long after came, “Who are we and how did we get here?” Homo sapiens, that congeries of narcissists, has been contemplating its journey ever since.
Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens,” has already been translated into more than 20 languages and been presented, via online courses, to thousands of mind-blown students. (It was originally written in Hebrew; Mr. Harari, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, did the very idiomatic translation.)
Children often still learn history as a tedious parade of names and dates. “Sapiens” is the antimatter version of this kind of history, all sparkling conceptual schemas and ironic apothegms, with hardly a Henry or Louis or Philip in view.
100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens.
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 to 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, palaeontology 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 behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come? Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power … and our future.
Because we moderns expect more, we are not satisfied by material conditions and objects that would have overjoyed our grandparents.
“Our intolerance of inconvenience and discomfort” is now so ingrained, he thinks, that “we may well suffer from pain more than our ancestors ever did.”
Worse still, modernity has brought about the collapse of the family, “the most momentous social revolution that ever befell humankind” and terminated the consolations of religion.
I rate this book 9/10, you can tell it is written by an academic who does a good job of researching and presenting this topic in a compelling fashion.
Harari is the consummate showman. A salesman too. He peppers the book with questions then answers, “We just don’t know.” Ah but if we join the 65,000 people already taking the prof’s online course, as flagged on the jacket, will we get answers?
Harari is historian as entertainer, entrepreneur, prophet and provocateur. Sapiens is a starburst of a book, as enjoyable as it is stimulating.
Just one more thing, as Colombo used to say on TV. Perhaps a brain fashioned for survival in the African bush has no idea of the right questions to ask. There may be reason to the universe. We are just not wise enough to see it.
Sapiens? As if.
Some of my favorite quotes:
– “Consistency is the playground of dull minds.”
– “One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”
– “Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.”
– “This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.”
– “in order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.”
– “Evolution has made Homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they’.”
– “Romanticism, which encourages variety, meshes perfectly with consumerism.”