Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Length: 15 hours 17 minutes
Published: 2017, HarperAudio
My Grade: 4 out of 5
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, 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 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.
When I was younger, history was not something that always appealed to me. I understood that we had to know the past to not make the same mistakes again and all of that. All I wanted (and perhaps still want?) is to leave reality and explore other worlds. But I’ve come to realize that the past is another world. And that is now super clear to me after listening to this book by Yuval Noah Harari.
I’ve heard people talking about Sapiens and the follow-up Homo Deus and at least this first one, did not disappoint. The title really gives the content justice, it is a brief summary, but I also feel like it covered so much. There’s a lot of information an author can squeeze into 15 hours of audiobook. And I guess that I learned more about our history than most people who are interested in history did. It was interesting.
The book covered a lot, from the agricultural revolution, to the introduction of the stock market, slavery, wars, exploration, colonies, capitalism, religion, and at the end he discussed happiness and a small introduction to our future (which Homo Deus covers). I haven’t finished the Science of Well-Being class yet, but I recognized everything he had to say on the matter and it was a good ending to the book. Are people today more happy than the peasants in the middle ages?
There was so much said in this book that I can’t get into details. It feels like I’m just rambling. The narrator was great! The book was great. It was provocative and made me agree with the author: we have gone in the wrong direction. I kind of feel bad for being a human, even if I specifically am not to be held accountable by all the horrible things our kind has done to bring us to where we are now. Sapiens gets a strong 4, I highly recommend it.
One last thing that I think everyone should take to heart, is something he says in the beginning of the book. Per definition, anything that is possible is natural. Biology enables, culture forbids.