Review: Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

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I'm back, baby!

Thanks for bearing with me while we've been on hiatus. I've moved in, the internet is working, and I've managed to get through a week as a home-owner without starving to death and/or setting myself on fire.

Amid all the chaos I've been reading Sapiens- a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and I've been bursting to give it my recommendation.

In Sapiens Harari attempts to describe and explain the entirety of the history of Homo Sapiens, from our creation to what could one day be our evolution.

 How did our species success in the battle for dominance? How did we become to believe in Gods, nations and human rights? Have we actually become happier and more peaceful in the process? By tackling these broad and significant questions and maintaining a critical historical stance Sapiens elevates itself into something special and worthy of a place on every good bookshelf.

The chapters are broken down by each revolutionary period in humanity's histories of thought and technology: the Cognitive Revolution ('A Day in the Life of Adam and Eve'), the Agricultural Revolution ('History's Biggest Fraud'), the Unification of Humankind ('The Arrow of History') and finally the Scientific Revolution (from 'The Discovery of Ignorance' to 'The End of Homo Sapiens'). Throughout this history Harari considers the reasons for human development, the impact we make to the world and people around us, how monotheistic religion conquered animistic religions, whether empires are truly evil or simply inevitable, how humanity managed to organise itself through the power of imagination and much more.

As you can see, the scope of the work is massive and it's something I can very much respect.

Using such large brush strokes, from a historical perspective, is always going to be problematic; a huge chunk of the discipline is dedicated to moving away from macrocosmic explanations of why history has turned out the way it has. But what Harari manages to do in Sapiens is effectively 'explain' human history's movement while still acknowledging that things could have turned out very, very differently and, in the end, history is always going to throw a curveball at you. Nothing is inevitable, but sometimes once humanity has chosen a path - as with the Agricultural revolution - it's almost impossible to move back to the way things once were. Instead of creating a deterministic view of history, Harari instead does something more clever in that he shows us the structures of human history and what built them. He, in a way, dissects human history down to its skeleton and shows you the movement of each ligament attached to it while still acknowledging that history is a living breathing creature. In doing so his arguments are far more convincing and you feel genuinely enlightened in places having read them.

The book has already appeared on the blog in various forms, lurking in the sources. Recently my post 'Was the Agricultural Revolution the Worst Mistake in Human History?' was pulled entirely from Harari's extremely convincing argument, so if you'd like to get a flavour for the content of the book please head along to there.

For a bonus, team this up with the equally excellent 'The Self Illusion' by Bruce Hood - that I reviewed in February - and proceed to feel like you know everything you need to know about how these funny little human animals tick. 

In short? Get it on your shelf, you'll be referring back to it for years to come.

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