Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
- An earnest, straightforward look at the history of humankind
- Wonder-inducing, fascinating book
- Impactful choice of language
- It was interesting to see areas where Harari focused his attention and points he reiterated
- Helpful illustrations and images
- I felt that it was drier and lost some momentum later in the book, but it was a small difference
- The organization could have been better. All of the going back and forth between time periods was occasionally confusing.
- Most Christians would not enjoy this book because it presents an alternative view of the origin of the human race when compared to the biblical account
- Religious people more generally probably wouldn’t enjoy this book
- Controversial but not in a bad way
I read this book at the recommendation of my grandpa and uncle, and I have to say, I was not disappointed. Nonfiction is not typically my thing, but I did not mind so much that it was nonfiction because I was focused on the evocative and precise language Harari used.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which I will shorten to Sapiens for the purpose of this article, was published in 2015 and quickly became an international bestseller.
Yuval Noah Harari, the author, is an Israeli professor, historian, and intellectual. He also wrote Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
Harari has a way of writing that is provocative and artful. His sentences pack a punch, especially for those unused to seeing things from this untraditional point of view.
He points out that humans used to have minimal influence on the environment.
The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies, or jellyfish.”Harari
He upholds the theory of evolution and emphasizes that there used to be multiple species of human.
Homo Sapiens long preferred to view itself as set apart from animals, an orphan who has no family, no cousin, and—most importantly—no parents.”Harari
The book includes helpful illustrations and images, such as a speculative reconstruction of what ancient humans looked like.
Harari also considers what is unique about humans such as large brains that require lots of energy, walking upright, children born prematurely and dependent for a long time compared to other species.
What’s nice is that Harari does not only consider his own preferred theory. For most concepts, he considers multiple theories. For example, Interbreeding Theory–that Sapiens bred with other forms of human until only one version of human remained vs Replacement Theory–we killed the other humans off or they died.
Harari definitely approaches this book from an atheistic standpoint, which is why it may be hard for Christian, or people of any religion honestly, to swallow.
There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”
It is clear that Harari has a special place in his heart for animals because he repeatedly critically presents examples of brutality toward domesticated animals, such as humans killing them young and forcing them to live an unnatural lifestyle. Harsher examples such as cutting off parts of pig snouts in parts of the world to keep them completely dependent. He keeps coming back to this topic.
One of my favorite parts was when he was describing Australian megafauna. Some of those creatures grew to impressive sizes, to as much as 20 feet tall. I can’t imagine coming upon an animal that large as a human. It really made me stop and think about it. I wish some of those megafauna, such as the giant sloth, were still around today. The humans were the most likely cause of their extinction, just like we cause the extinction of many species still today.
In addition to the advancements of the past, Harari considers the science of today and what it is attempting to accomplish. One of these goals he calls Project Gilgamesh, after a legendary man who set out to find immortality. Science now seeks to stop death itself.
The last part of the book is partially devoted to what makes human happiness–it almost reads like a guide to happiness, which is odd but interesting.
Overall, this book was an enthralling read. I definitely think the book lost a bit of strength as it went on, but it still had impact. Would definitely recommend!
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