Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind

Erik Book Review, History, Thoughts of a Mastermind 2 Comments

Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, examines the following fact: one hundred thousand years ago, there were six species of humans. Today, there are just one species of humans. Some questions Sapiens asks and answers: How did Homo Sapiens succeed in lasting throughout time? Why did Homo Sapiens go from groups of hunter-gathers to living in cities and nations? What makes Homo Sapiens unique to the animal kingdom?

Sapiens is broken up into four sections: The first section examines what Harari calls the “Cognitive Revolution”. The Cognitive Revolution describes the time period where humans’ brains developed and humans could now make tools and become more efficient in their work. The second section examines the Agricultural Revolution. Many of us know what occurred during this time period: humans went mainly hunting and gathering for their food to growing crops, domesticating various animals, and becoming sedentary. The third section is called “The Unification of Humankind”. In this section, Harari looks at the social structures which have been put in place to unify humankind. Some of these structures include religion and nations. Here, Harari introduces his concept of the “Imagined Myth” (more on this later). Finally, in the final section, called “Scientific Revolution”, Harari looks at the recent past and talks about economic constructs, such as communism or capitalism, technological developments, and how the industrial revolution transformed the world once again.

At the end of Sapiens, Harari tries to answer a few deep questions: Have we become happier as history has unfolded? With technological development and increases in efficiency of housing and food production, have we become happier? If we wanted to, could we break free from the influence of our ancestors? There are many questions Harari poses for the reader to think about. It will be interesting in the future as we continue to evolve.

Harari argues the concept of the “Imagined Myth” has been instrumental to the unification of humankind. His argument, essentially, is because humans are able to be creative and think of things that are not rooted in reality, they have became more successful, speaking from an evolutionary standpoint. Different imagined myths throughout history have included things like religion, money, government, nations, cities, sports teams, companies, and the list goes on. Think about it for a second, what makes a nation a nation? It’s the common belief that all the people who reside in that nation believe the nation exists. It is only because a group of individuals believe in the imagined concept of a nation that we have nations. Humans are the only species in the world where you can have two strangers who will become friends because they share a nationality, a religion, or are fans of the same sports team.

When I finished the book and realized that many of the stresses in my life come from imagined myths, I felt a great weight lifted off of my shoulders. I asked myself, “What really matters to me in this world?” My answers were family, friends, and my health and wealth. I’m now committed to emphasizing these aspects of my life.

In conclusion, I would recommend Sapiens if you are interested in reading about history, human development, or psychology. Sapiens opened my brain to think about our social constructs in a different way. It challenged me on some of my beliefs about society and human history. I’m interested in reading more books like this in the future. One book in particular I have that I want to read is called The Rational Optimist, which looks at human history from an economic perspective.

Do you like reading books about history or humankind? Have you read Sapiens? What did you think of it?

Erik

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Erik,
    A colleague at work recommended the book to me last year and said she enjoyed it. But she’s definitely interested in humanity and social / political topics.

    Thanks for sharing this review.
    Best wishes,
    -DL

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