Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari | Book Review

Sapiens is undoubtedly one of the most talked about books in recent times. Around 25,000 global ratings on Amazon and almost 5,00,00 ratings on Goodreads. How can one not read such a popular book!

Another thing that compelled me to read it is that it claims to survey the entire history of humankind, from the evolution of the human species in the early ages till the 21st century. So yes! I was tempted to know my history, the history of homo sapiens, and I bought Sapiens.

About the book Sapiens

Homo sapiens rule the world because it is the only animal that can imagine and believe! This provocative idea was the seed behind Sapiens, which the author, Yuval Noah Harari, subtly tries to establish in the entire book while providing the reader with an entirely different perspective on the history of mankind. The author is an Israeli national who is a historian and a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received his PhD from the University of Oxford in 2002.

The book was first published in Hebrew in 2011, then in English in 2014, and became an international hit. It was recommended by Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and many others. In Sapiens, Harari explored our past, and then in 2016, he returned with Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. As the name suggests, this book examines the big future projects facing humanity in the 21st century. After exploring deep into the past and the future, Harari published 21 lessons for the 21st century in 2018, focusing on the most significant challenges of the present times. Coming back to Sapiens, the book has been translated into over 60 languages and was listed by The Guardian as among the ten best brainy books of the decade. It was on the New York Times bestseller list and won the National Library of China’s Wenjin Book Award for best book published in 2014.

Synopsis

Sapience is definitely one of the most insightful books published in recent years. This is a book about the history of humans, precisely what the title claims to be. The book says that long ago, the world had around half a dozen species of humans, of which only Homo Sapiens is surviving today. This book takes us through some significant revolutions in the trajectory of evolution. The cognitive revolution which led to the cultural evolution. In simple words, when we get smart. Then the Agricultural Revolution, when we learned to manipulate nature. Here, the author brought forward a new perspective; he explained how people could not fathom the full consequences of their decisions.

Paradoxically, a series of improvements each of which was meant to make life easier, added up to a milestone around the necks of the farmers.

Then, he elaborated upon the possible reasons for miscalculations and victims of the revolution. The author considers the agricultural revolution to be history’s biggest fraud. Then throws light on the development of currency and coinage, the creation of religion, the arrival of imperialism, and then the scientific revolution when the Homo Sapiens got extremely powerful. He elaborates on the rise of capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and the history of inequalities, injustices, and misunderstandings.

Unfortunately for all hopes of creating heaven on earth, our internal biochemical system seems to be programmed to keep happiness levels relatively constant.

The author questions straight on our faces: are we becoming happier after all the progress that we have made to date? Are we not carrying forward the heritage of our ancestors blindly? Will we be able to free ourselves from the influence of our past, which could have been miscalculated, and can we do anything to correct the course of action for the current coming times?

Towards the end of the book, Harari takes a fearful telescopic look into the future of Homo sapiens. He ends up suggesting that homo sapiens could be entering a new era where technologies could revive some extent species or create cyborgs, or engineer completely inorganic beings. All this directs us to his second book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

The Hook

We cannot explain the choices that history makes, but we can say something very important about them: history’s choices are not made for the benefit of humans. There is also absolutely no proof that human well-being inevitably improves as rolls along.

What I liked

The book definitely is very engaging; kudos to the author, as it is very difficult to avoid confusing the readers while explaining such long theories and details. Almost all the phases, along with the theories of evolution, are covered by the author in 20 different chapters. It sounds too much, but believe me, he never lost the link even once. The transition to subsequent phases and topics was so smooth that we never lost interest. He outlined all the major conflicting theories and gave an honest opinion without undermining the readers’ knowledge. Though this book is based on the lectures he gave in his history class, nowhere in the book he seemed to be lecturing the readers. To me, this book was thought-provoking also; we certainly are ignorant about our aims. Here I am talking about the aim at large of the entire mankind. If it is happiness, then have we achieved it after coming this far? I think this book gives a deeper understanding of how we evolved to our current state. The information provided in this book is not revolutionary new, but the perspective and the way of telling are definitely unique. After knowing this journey, I feel we might start valuing our lives more.

What I didn't like

One major aspect that I liked less about the book is the pessimistic approach. The author totally invalidates the choices made by our ancestors. He argues that on the individual level, our foraging ancestors were the most knowledgeable and skilful people in history. The arguments given for support needed to be more factual to me. The second thing that disappointed me was the religious part. He explained all the religions, Theism, atheism, monotheism, polytheism, and dualism, but to me, his knowledge about Hinduism seemed shallow. Again, when we compared the religions with ideologies he calls natural law religious, I was unconvinced. Also, some parts the author portrays as facts seemed fictitious to me.

Takeaways

The major takeaway for me is that we should try to think and evaluate independently without getting influenced by the choices and rules made by our ancestors.

Recommendation

Aside from a few things, Sapiens is a wonderful read for history students and all those who wish to evaluate human evolution in a new light. One suggestion: If you are a casual and quick reader, this book might disappoint you because it demands dedication and time. One needs to allow time for the author’s perspectives to sink in. I wish history was taught with such an interesting approach in schools.

I would definitely recommend it for every homo sapiens.

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