Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens is a worldwide best seller, and with good reason, the book is a wonderful work, engaging and interesting, whilst also easy to understand and well written. Harari’s work is, like the title says, a brief history of ourselves. The book follows Homo Sapiens through history, using sociological, political and scientific to explain why we are how we are today. He divides his book up into four parts that he sees as the four major developments in the history of the world. It is a great book for the untrained person; it is accessible to all people, with good explanations of the world and comparisons of different stages of world history. Sapiens_A_Brief_History_of_Humankind

Harari starts with an outline of the ‘Cognitive Revolution’, when Sapiens evolve an imagination and are able to use this to develop such ideas as religion, money and nations. In Harari’s eyes we are only able to have these ideas as we have imagination and are able to believe in these shared imaginations. He goes on to explain that money and nationality are the same as religion, as they are based on the same imaginations that we share across our species.

The second part of the book is concerned with the ‘Agricultural Revolution’, the period when Sapiens developed skills to farm and domesticate animals; especially our use of wheat and cattle. Here Harari outlines these developments and the ways these have impacted on the environment as well as ourselves. He argues that we no longer have such a varied diet due to the way we have settled down into a new lifestyle, different to our previous hunter-gatherer traditions. This section also introduces a recurring theme; our treatment of animals and abuse of the planet.

In the third section Harari discusses the ‘Unification of Humankind’, essentially the development of politics and empire, as well as the interaction between different groups of Spaiens. Further to this Harari develops the idea that globalisation is leading to a global empire, driven by money and power.

This leads into his fourth section; ‘The Scientific Revolution’, a discussion of the world from around 1500AD until the present day. The final section discusses how the elites of the world started to use money and power to explore various ideas, essentially trying to rid themselves of ignorance. Harari believes that empire building came from this, imperialists were curious about the world and as such, explored as much as possible. He ends this section, and the book, with a discussion of the future of humanity and how science may cause us to evolve into a new species. By using modern technology we may develop into super-humans or as Harari says, ‘Gods’.

I think this book is excellent in many ways, but I do think it has its shortcomings. It is well written, each argument is well thought out and, most importantly, it is accessible. I would, however, argue that maybe it is too short. I wonder if each chapter could be a book in its own right. Writing this post I actually found it very interesting looking at comments from scholars, many of whom think this book is not worthy of the acclaim it has received. This made me wonder though, even if this is not perfect in the eyes of scholars, surely they must embrace its impact and be glad that more people are becoming interested in their field? I think that is what makes this book so great, its impact and the fact it has opened peoples eyes to a rather difficult subject.


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