Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”
Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens‘ is as relevant now as it was when the English version was first released in 2014. Obama, Gates and Zuckerberg are just a few names that have endorsed the work by the Israeli author who provides a fascinating insight into how we got to where we are. To achieve the amazing feat of taking the reader on a journey from the very dawn of Homo sapiens to the present, Harari divides the book into four sections: The cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind and the scientific revolution. Each section provides thought-provoking ideas and forces the reader to reflect and analyse their own beliefs.
My favourite characteristic of the book is that Harari delivers his thoughts in a way that appear obvious when you read them but touch on parts on the human experience that I had not previously thought about. For example, the role of gossip in communities, how religion has shaped our existence and the power of collective imagination. Harari spends a great deal of time delving into the workings of all the largest religions in what first appears to be too much detail, but he reveals captivating thoughts that extend into the world we live in today. Before reading this book, I had never stopped to think about how our current actions have been shaped through evolution which is why I could not put the book down while reading about the cognitive revolution.
From an economics perspective, Sapiens does not go into any detail about the history of economic thought however, Harari discusses the creation of money and our current capitalist and consumerist society which is best summed up by this quote. I would argue that Harari’s multi-disciplinary approach (combining history, biology, philosophy, and economics) to see the transition to our current state is more effective than an argument driven solely from an economic perspective.
Whilst most of the book is enthralling there are some parts which may not appeal to many readers. For me, this was when the book described the domestication of wheat in quite frankly, excruciatingly detail. However, these moments were few and far between as the book managed to keep my attention for the most part. Further, some readers may view the work as personal opinion as beyond the first section there is little reference to scholarly work and is rather Harari’s own thoughts. This is a valid argument, but I would encourage readers to keep an open mind when reading and be aware that the thoughts presented are Harari’s.
To conclude, ‘Sapiens‘ is a book that made headlines when it was first released and after having read it, it’s not difficult to see why. If you are someone who is even remotely interested in understanding the various forces that shaped the history of Homo sapiens then I urge you to read this book. If you would like a more scientific understanding of our history then read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – another book which I recommend. However, Sapiens is the perfect coffee-table book as any reader who sees its cover will be reminded of all the thought-provoking ideas contained inside.