Yuval Noah Harari is an interesting phenomenon. For a historian, he’s extremely popular. In a culture dominated by Instagram celebrities and teenage Youtubers, he stands out as a solid professional, astute thinker and prolific writer, with best-sellers like “Sapiens” or “21 Lessons for The 21st Century”. That’s quite a lot to put into a single package.
When I bought the book “Sapiens” I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever, although the sheer size of it – it’s one of those “brick” books, really thick – was a bit overwhelming.
It took me a couple of weeks to finish it, but, in my defense, I indulged in it. As with any good book, the closer I got to the end, the slower I read, not wanting to get to the end of it.
But at some point it had to end, because other – potentially – good books were waiting for me, so here I am, with a short, and rather unorganized book review.
“Sapiens” is the history of the modern human. It’s based on a biological distinction between our species and other humanoids, like Neanderthals. “Sapiens” is also used as a blanket name for what modern humans have generated. Spoiler: they didn’t generate a lot of good stuff.
There are 3 main time zone described in “Sapiens”: The Cognitive Revolution, Agricultural Revolution and The Scientific Revolution.
The Cognitive Revolution started about 70,000 BCE and lasted until 10,000 BCE. It was the “hunter-gatherer” age.
The Agricultural Revolution started around 10,000 BCE and lasted until the start of Scientific Revolution, around 1,500 CE. It was the time when humans settled and big cities appeared.
The Scientific Revolution – the era that is currently unfolding – is what generated all the advancements in health, economics and transportation that we are enjoying now.
Each age / revolution is described from a few different angles and these pieces are glued together in clear and vivid images. The style is alert, more like a blog than a book and the examples abundant. There is a clear tendency towards statistics and numbers in the book, as a way to measure, for instance, the impact of the Sapiens on the planet. From this perspective, Sapiens generated the huge proliferation of chickens, which may be the most populous species on Earth now – but, surprise, they are not the most influential, on the contrary. The book abounds in these perspectives, almost like an alien would interpret the strange movements of the species around the globe, during 70, 000 years.
The main takeaway from this book is that every jump in human culture, in the way we live, from Cognitive hunter-gatherers, to stable Agricultural peasants, and from there to ubiquitous Scientific wanderers, comes with a huge cost. We may live longer, in absolute terms, but our life enjoyment, our “happiness” may decrease. It’s like we are trading more time on this human form, for less happiness.
There are many other takeaways, of course, I just don’t want to ruin your pleasure.
All in all, a necessary and enlightening lecture. Highly recommended.
You can get the book – in various formats – by following this non-affiliate link
Image source: Wikipedia, used under fair use conditions.