Humans – an exciting species! We are unique animals. We have a sixth sense by which we are able to think. Our history is special (or that’s how we think). But wait, whose version of Human history am I talking about? All of us might’ve heard the term “history is written by the victors”. Rightfully so, there are myriad accounts of humans’ existence and journey. An emperor like Genghis Khan had chronicles of his kingdom’s origins. Early Roman and Greek civilizations had rich mythologies explaining the creation and working of the world.
Religious texts like the Bible or Quran have their own details of miraculous creations. One common thing among all these texts is the extent of inaccuracies, exaggerations, contradictions, and their biased perspective. Although it is impossible to eliminate them completely, it is quintessential to register facts backed with evidence and science. The approach needs to be rational. And, that’s precisely what Dr. Yuval Noah Harari has done in his book – Sapiens.
About the Author – Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari is a renowned historian who came to the limelight through his book Sapiens. Born in 1976, he pursued and completed education until his Ph.D. and then started his career as a history professor. Dr. Yuval compiled his lectures on world history during his stint at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He later published it as “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” in Hebrew. In 2014, the book was released in English and became an international bestseller.
His subsequent books “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” and “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” are pretty popular non-fiction works. Dr. Yuval regularly participates in numerous talk shows and conferences. Apart from an author and a professor, he is identified as an intellectual and a philosopher. He loves to address humanity’s biggest problems ranging from religion and money to nationality and sustainability. No wonder his books have a philosophical view covering these broad topics.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Review)
The book beguiles us by enlightening us about the origins of humankind. For understanding the timescale and magnanimity of our existence, the author starts from the Big Bang. In order to fathom our journey, we need to look for evidence backed by science. Therefore, Dr. Yuval simplifies the branches of sciences involved: the information about the Big Bang started around 13.5 billion years ago involves physics; formation of atoms and molecules, and its interaction involves chemistry; primitive single-celled organisms formed some 3.8 billion years ago started the branch we know as biology. And, everything that followed is human history. This foundation in the first few pages of the book prepares the readers for an intellectual dive into the prodigious mind of the narrator.
Evolution is one of the polemical topics in science. It is strongly supported by scientists (based on the available evidence) but blindly rejected by creationists (based on religious faiths) and conspiracy theorists (well, what can we expect). Creationists ironically say that there is no evidence for evolution. The truth is, the evolution of primitive organisms to complex multicellular organisms took place for millions and millions of years.
And the proof of evolution needs to be looked at at a macroscopic time scale. And, that is exactly what the book Sapiens has done impressively. The first chapter deals with the early evolution of modern humans, i.e., Homo Sapiens. Humans, as we know, are not the only species to have ruled the Earth. More than a dozen human species have been identified till now. The narrative of co-existence among multiple species of the human race and how we (Homo Sapiens) survived the test of times is one strong evidence that supports evolution.
Quote: “The earth of a hundred millennia ago was walked by at least six different species of man.”
Although an academician, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari didn’t keep his wits under control. He effortlessly simplified centuries of human growth, evolution, and transformation. Three significant milestones mentioned in Sapiens are Cognitive Revolution, Agricultural Revolution, and Scientific Revolution.
Humans belong to the family of great apes. And around 70,000 years ago, our tongue-tied ancestors developed the ability to communicate effectively. The author speculates that this particular evolutionary upgrade made humans the top of the food chain. He describes it as Cognitive Revolution.
History’s Biggest Fraud
With the newly discovered language (however primitive they might’ve been), humans started living in sophisticated groups and later paved the way for cultures. Around 12,000 years ago, Agricultural Revolution took place. Humans domesticated plants like wheat and animals like goat and chicken. Often, we glorify the occupation of agriculture. But Dr. Yuval begs to differ. He even claims that the First Agricultural Revolution that began 10,000 years ago was history’s biggest fraud.
Why? Because he hypothesizes that the foragers before had a better understanding of the ecosystem. And as a result of the revolution, settled humans worked harder than before without better nourishment. In due time, this led to hoarding and exploitation by a select few. Calling it a fraud might be a bit harsh. But still, we cannot completely deny that as the exploitation of the working class still continues.
Living on a pale blue dot in the universe, we humans are naively proud of our knowledge and command over the world. Sapiens breaks that delicate ego by stating some hard truths. The author realizes that the true development of humanity began during Scientific Revolution around 500 years ago.
Centuries of accumulated wisdom don’t have to be absolutely right. With the latest advancements in science and technology, people started questioning the undisputed sources of knowledge like religious texts. Dr. Yuval insists that the mere act of acknowledging our ignorance leads to learning new things. Simple, compelling, and profound!
Quote: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”
Sapiens, in my opinion, is a gateway to understanding human history. History is regarded as a boring subject by many. But Dr. Yuval Noah Harari makes it engaging, thought-provoking, and whimsical for us. Some would argue that the book is not entirely factual. It is filled with the author’s personal insights and observations. But that is what makes the book a clear winner. The greatest trick that the author ever pulled is convincing the readers to critically think, understand, and act accordingly.
Quote: “Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know.’ It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.”
The book Sapiens justifies its title – “A Brief History of Humankind”. It addresses some of the crucial questions surrounding us. What makes Homo Sapiens stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom? How a humble species from a lineage of apes conquered the Earth? Sapiens narrates the chronological events of our humble beginnings right from the Big Bang and even attempts at predicting the future. It is wise of us to think about the past and act from the experiences and knowledge gathered. In that sense, Sapiens is a must-read non-fiction book that every one of us have to read. You can get the book here! 📖
Inspired by the books of Mark Twain at school, Sabari Nath started his habit of reading fiction and adventure novels. Gradually, he evolved to enjoy more nuanced novels like The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Sophie’s World. Having worked for years as a content writer, he hopes to follow his passion for writing novels in the near future!
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Humans – an exciting species! We are unique animals. We have a sixth sense by which we are able to think. Our history is special (or that's how we think). But wait, whose version of Human history am I talking about? All of us might've heard the term "history is written by the victors". Rightfully so, there are myriad accounts of humans' existence and journey. An emperor like Genghis Khan had chronicles of his kingdom's origins. Early Roman and Greek civilizations had rich mythologies explaining the creation and working of the world.
Author: Yuval Noah Harari