I had just finished the book and I was dying to talk about it. It’s so provocative and raises so many questions about human history that I knew it would spark great conversations around the dinner table. It didn’t disappoint.
Harari, who is an Israeli historian, takes on a daunting challenge: to tell the entire history of us, the human race, in a mere 400 pages.
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?
What’s unique about Harari’s take is that he focuses on the power of stories and myths to bring people together. Baboons, wolves, and other animals also know how to function as a group, of course, but their groups are defined by close social ties that limit their groups to small numbers. Homo sapiens has the special ability to unite millions of strangers around commons myths. Ideas like freedom, human rights, gods, laws, and capitalism exist in our imaginations, yet they can bind us together and motivate us to cooperate on complex tasks.
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?
He also poses some fundamental questions about happiness. When in our long history as Homo sapiens were we most fulfilled? As hunter-gatherers chasing down mammoths? As farmers tilling the soil? Maybe as God-fearing peasants in the Middle Ages? More fundamentally, he asks: Who are we as a species? And where are we going?
Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power … and our future.
Next on the List : 21 Lessons for the 21st Century