February 22, 2017

Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Mankind - Yuval Noah Harari - Book Review

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite often I get this thought, 'The universe is large. There are so many galaxies and our solar system is nothing more than a speck. Earth is even smaller. Yet, we are the only known living beings. The history of Earth is so vast and it has been there for millions of years. Humans have been there for significant part. Yet, we live in a space with so advanced technology and process complicated stuff out of a tiny little thing in our head known as Brain. Why are we destined to do this?' Yuval Noah Harari has tried to explain this in the book Sapiens. It is an attempt to explain how have Humans come to this stage.

The author defines three main timelines in the history of Homo Sapiens

1. Cognitive Revolution (70000 years ago)
2. Agricultural Revolution (10000 years ago)
3. Scientific Revolution (500 years ago)

When we co-existed with the animals out there in the wild, we were not on top of the food chain. The ancient stone tools discovered were not designed to kill animals. They were used to break bones and eat the marrows inside (So, the big Cats hunt and then lesser animals eat the rest and then scavengers scavenge and after all that humans broke the bone and ate the marrow). Being that weak, Sapiens had a lucky intervention in the form of Cognitive Revolution. Most animals can communicate in some form, but none as detailed and as sophisticated as a Human. This created knowledge and helped humans form groups and communities. It is interesting that Gossips form an important means of communication. It helps establish trust (and it continues till the day).

This was the phase when we were Hunter-Gatherers and Foragers. The author defines this as the best period of Sapiens. They had a relaxed lifestyle, worked less and were fit as they ate a mix of all nutrients. Interestingly, our liking for Sweets has been hardwired from this age. Sweets were such a rarity then and evolution made Sapiens gorge on any sweet they find as it provides abundant energy.

Accidents have always been an important cause of turnaround in Human history. Agricultural revolution was no less. A few Hunter Gatherers found that the wheat they gathered spilled on the way and new wheat grass sprouted. Thus started the domestication. The author further says that it was actually plants like Potato, Wheat and Rice that domesticated us than we domesticating them. Growing these required lot of energy - you had to settle down, plough, remove weed, water and it consumes lot of time. And you end up with one type of food as against the Hunter Gatherers. And due to settling down the human population arose significantly. Thus bigger societies were forming with a big hope of tomorrow, although the life of a farmer was worse than that of a Hunter Gatherer. Hence, the Author calls Agricultural Revolution as the 'Biggest Fraud' in Human History. And this curse continues to chase us today as he says,

'How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.,'

Agricultural Revolution led to unification of mankind in a way that could never happen with animals - we started having Fictional realities like Money, Country, Kingdom, God which doesn't exist in nature. The author digs deeply into three main factors that led to mass unification of Humans - Money, Empire and Religion. All of this leads to Trust and enable unification. As he writes, It is interesting how deep the author goes into each of them and analyze the pros of cons of each.

He also touches upon and pity the domesticated animals that are treated in a very cruel way. 'Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived. The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueler with the passing of the centuries'

In the final part, the author analyzes the reasons for Scientific Revolution starting out of Europe and how it changed the course of the world. He believes is started because the scientists accepted Ignorance in first place. They were ready to explore and gain knowledge. The kingdom supported them and eventually they conquered the world. He also explains the rise of capitalism and interlinking of capitalism and science.

Finally, the author touches upon two aspects - the first one was something that I didn't expect the author would touch upon - Happiness. He tries to find out what exactly Happiness is and how do we define that. The last 50 years have infact been the best part of Homo Sapiens existence. In the entire past history, there was no such time of peace. Yet, does it impact happiness. We live longer than our ancestors. Are we more content? He feels that more research should be done in the field.

The final concluding piece is the future of Homo Sapiens - Will we become Amortal? Will AI take over? Are we Cyborgs today? He looks into various possibilities that might become true.

The depth and width of knowledge covered in this book is amazing. Every page has new information and he has tried to capture it as vividly as possible. Summarizing the book might provide some insights, but reading this book is something very different.

Finally, there are few people who say our generation is the worst of the lot and our ancestors were close to nature. The author disagrees, 'The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.'


  1. nice reading...great info...its good that your continuing blogging...


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