Review: Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one humongous book which tends to live on many people’s bookshelves for a long time. It’s been on mine too, for the longest time as well – for well over 2 years precisely. I picked up this book alongside many others as part of a read-along I host on my Bookstagram handle with the tag #theurbanreadalongs. Like many of the other readers I had my doubts and apprehensions about selecting a 500 page non-fiction book.
A quick overview on the division of the book, it’s bound together by 4 revolutionary events in the relatively short history of our species’ existence:
- The Cognitive Revolution
- The Agriculture Revolution
- The Industrial Revolution
- The Scientific Revolution
These four revolutions talk about our transformation from being insignificant apes to rulers of this planet. Harari has very carefully tried to construct a story of our existence by taking into account multiple theories acknowledged by historians around the world. From those theories he tries to give us a clearer picture of our past. The problem I faced with this was that he tried to make sense of our evolution by going back and forth on those multiple theories as per his convenience, after all it is his story in the end.
Having said that, I would be very cautious to consider theories as facts as sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand and merge the two as the same. I’d ask all readers to be careful of differentiating between the two while reading Sapiens. Keep in mind that this is one historian’s perspective of our evolution and I did find many of them to be amusing.
One of my favorite parts in the book was the one titled as The Unification of Humankind. In this part Harari has talked about everything from culture to ideologies. In fact I agree with him when he calls modern ideologies as a form of religion too. An introduction to the concept of individualism and how it came to be romanticized was quite interesting to read about as well. This, alongside The Scientific Revolution will hit closest to home as the history of these two revolutions dates back to only two centuries ago placing us not from some of the most exciting times in the history of our existence.
The earlier parts had helped me see things from a different perspective and even gain new ones on some others. It helped me understand some very minute and major habits which we have today. An example which was given very early on about our head size and how that impacted the mother during child birth or our fascination and gorging habits on sweets and oily food. I didn’t know of that and I had never thought about it before. The origin of Charles Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities and of course a deeper insight into the word meme were some great additions to the book in my opinion.
But I occasionally felt that Harari was a bit too repetitive about some topics such as money and imagination, as he kept bringing up the two concepts and ended up explaining them way too many times. I can’t single-handedly point out anything specific in the book which was inaccurate as they were theories followed by his opinions on them. This book is like an onion with many overlying layers, each one stretching our brain’s capacity and making us question everything as we know it.
For me the reading experience was a roller coaster ride, from being excited about reading the book to being disappointed to the point of quitting it. From it making me go woahh to ending up in an existential crisis questioning everything we’ve done as a species to come this far and of how capable we are to bring even more destruction from here on. Making me realize towards the end that maybe the future of our species is even more terrifying than the past we’ve lived through. It’s an exhausting book trying to tell us of our survival and growth till this point in time and I am glad to have picked it up and given it a chance. I do recommend this book to those who are looking for a different and a somewhat easily comprehensible perspective of our evolution, with a fair warning to not take the author’s musings as facts.
I rate Sapiens 3 out of 5 bookmarks, because of the multiple times it made me want to quit reading it and also because of the parts where Mr.Harari has chosen to be a hypocrite. It has been quite the challenge to finish this one and I’m glad to have overcome it but I don’t think I’ll be picking up another in this series anytime soon.