Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Nonfiction, 512 pages, published in 2011

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.
[Goodreads]

Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This book…was weird. I really liked a lot of the information presented, but the execution was kind of all over the place.

THE GOOD

There was a lot of very interesting information in the middle of the book. The author is very accepting and tries to present information in a very neutral way.

While I did think the author overused examples, I do think he used examples from a wide range of areas and cultures.

“How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realise this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realise this possibility. “
-pg. 146-147

THE BAD

The author is a historian, so the scientific portions of this book are less than ideal. The beginning about the book is all about evolution and some of the facts felt…wrong. At one point, he speculates about the reason for the mutation that allowed humans of complex thought. Mutations don’t have a reason, the only way that they can happen is randomly (disregarding mutations caused by chemical exposure, as I don’t think that was the case). It just felt like a very basic scientific fact for this book to have wrong.

The tone of the book went all over the place. Sometimes it was quite formal and scientific and other times it was very casual and a little condescending (to other animals).

The book ended with a prediction for the future, which I didn’t like because once again, the author delved into science.

I RECOMMEND THIS FOR…

I think this book presents a lot of interesting ideas! It is pretty accessible, there is nothing that really needs any prior knowledge to understand the concepts.

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