Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari has done an excellent job in this book which surveys the history of humankind from the Stone Age up to twenty first century. With this book, Harari tried to motivate his readers to question themselves, even if they are controversial. He wants his readers to question their beliefs, the basic narratives of their world and to build up connections between the past developments with present concerns. After completing the book the readers are expected to be left with too many questions on whatever they have known about their species, its evolution and the world till date.
Translation of this book can be found in 20 languages which show its popularity. The book was first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 and in English in 2014. It has also been presented, via online courses, to thousands of mind blown people.
The name of the book reveals the theme of the book itself. The book’s title is a sort of a reminder that, long time back, the world had half a dozen species of human, of which only homo sapiens survives today. The main argument Harari tries to make is that Homo sapiens is dominating the world because it can cooperate flexibly up to a certain number. The other animals lack the ability of cooperation and thus, Homo sapiens wins the race. The ability to cooperate comes from believing in the myths those are formed from various narratives by the human beings. Humans have the special powers to narrate their own form of stories and persuade the fellow humans to believe in the myths. This special feature makes human beings a super sapiens. Harari makes a controversial argument saying that all large scale human cooperation systems (such as, freedom, human rights, capitalism, religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions) are all made up on the basis of pure imaginations. The abilities of humans to share their thoughts, store and build up information is not common in the other animals.
As a historian it would have been an easy task for the writer to dig deep into how the evolution of Homo sapiens occurred. But the credit to him goes only when he critically analyses various historical happenings with scientific facts. It is not the historical data for which one should read the book but the interpretations of Harari for every event of the past. Harari has been great in building up a relation between history and biology. Also very cleverly he has divided the book into four sectors which again have few sub parts. Each of the sector deals with a concept like Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind and The Scientific Revolution respectively. The sections under these sectors describe the main theme in great details. For example, in the first sector (The Cognitive Revolution) he writes about how human beings used their super powers of their brain and proved to be intelligent than the other sapiens. The second sector (The Agricultural Revolution) deals with how human made the nature do what they wanted. The following sector is The Unification of Humankind which shows the power of money and religion as tools to unify people. The final stage of the book is The Scientific Revolution which deals with the super powers of human beings. It says that how the human beings used science and became the most powerful species alive.
While I liked most of the arguments Harari makes, I am highly persuaded by his argument where he tries to say that agricultural revolution was the biggest mistake of humankind. He tried to justify his argument by saying that although agriculture allowed civilization to thrive but at individual level it has been a curse. He says that we were better off as hunter gatherers. As farmers, people had to work extremely hard and in return had a worse diet to that of foragers. Social hierarchy is also a result of agricultural revolution. Also, the agricultural societies have raised the number of deaths and violent activities due to competition over resources.
On one hand I am highly impressed with the persuasive writing style of the writer, on the other side; I am also disappointed because the author tends to impose his train of thoughts on the readers. It’s always good to be able to persuade the maximum numbers of readers with your writing but the writer should always set his readers free to have their own interpretations.
Anyways, I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested to know about their own species in details. This book certainly shows that doubts are good to broaden the horizon of knowledge of any person. The most beautiful thing about this book is a lot of details have been gathered by the author in much smaller number of words. Also, the breakup of the book in to various modules, chapters and sub chapters makes it an easy read for all. This may be an incentive for those who hates to read fat books like me. The book will keep its readers engaged till its end.