"Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari

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Yuval Noah Harari teaches in the History Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Presumably he teaches history, but it seems equally likely that he instructs in anthropology or logic. In Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind, he demonstrates his mastery of these disciplines, in addition to history. Sapiens contains a brief review of such human constructs as civilization, the power of the human imagination to make the human way of life possible, nay, inevitable, and the rampant, often incorrect assumptions people make about modern life.

We lead off with the Cognitive Revolution of 70,000 years ago,  roughly during a time when our African forebears shared the planet with other beings of the genus Homo, like Homo erectus in eastern Asia, Homo soloensis on Java, and on the island of Flores, in the same area of the world, Homo floresiensis, a dwarf human which evolved independently. This doesn’t count Homo neandertalensis of Europe, Homo denisova of Siberia, and yet two more of African origin, Homo rudolfensis and Homo ergaster.

About 70,000 years ago, after developing new ways of thinking, and in particular, communicating, troops of anatomically modern humans marched out of Africa into the Arabian Peninsula. In a remarkably short time they—we—occupied all of Eurasia, and by 30,000 years ago, Australia. Following the Cognitive Revolution was the Agricultural Revolution, occurring about 10,000 years ago.

The ability to domesticate plants and animals led to such innovations as the stratified society, in which ruling elites organized and controlled planting, harvesting, and storing agricultural surpluses, and dictated the lives of non-elite people. A good portion this section recounts the function of such convenient falsehoods as money, religion, and empire, and how they made the Scientific Revolution (ca. 1500 CE) possible.

This book is one large dose of perspective. In plain, convincing fashion, Harari lays out in broad brush strokes the trends and influences which have brought us to where we are today. The book is an excellent encapsulation of humanity’s past in that it reminds us of how briefly we’ve been around the planet, and how we came to dominate it. It  ends with a brief but unsettling section of speculation on the race’s future.

As an example of its kind, Sapiens is focused, direct, and convincing. It also has Harari’s clear perspective on past and current trends, so it is well-recommended.




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