Book Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
by RajaRajeshwari Arenga
This was an opportunity to discover, read and reflect on a fascinating book.
I read through the entire book over a period of four weeks. I managed to cover more than one chapter on certain days, while my reading speed ranged between few lines to a few pages on others. Entirely possible I might have missed reading or remembering certain key areas in the book as I compiled my thoughts on it below.
The author must be gifted and talented to pull off such an ambitious and epic feat and that too with such finesse, logical continuity and adroitness.
To summarize 200,000 years of human history in a compact, concise and meaningful manner, all in about 466 pages, stringing together four key stages that transformed humans, the environment and led to the current state we sapiens find ourselves in today…is an amazing and incredible effort. A current state characterized by technological advancements, sophisticated socio-economic order and rise of collective consciousness, yet sapiens remain a discontent species partitioned by more criteria than ever…race, religion, sex, caste, language, region,”culturism”… and edging towards ecological disaster or technological paradise.
He has picked certain key events and ideologies that shaped and changed the course of history quite dramatically and unexpectedly and not always in favour of the well being of the sapiens and other earth dwellers.
Found some of the analogies cited, a little far fetched and over enthusiastic.
I felt it emphasized primarily the oppressive aspects of sapiens and that it could have striven for a more balanced view. But that didn’t diminish the overall essence of the book.
The author’s attempt to inspire empathy by drawing parallels between slavery and the modern animal industry is sure to strike a chord with many, in my view.
Overall it presents a provocative birds eye view of history not characterized just by wars, conquests and biological drivers but by the underlying socio-economic, agricultural, political, industrial and technological transformations.
The author has skillfully and coherently highlighted various key drivers of rapid human progression from an ape-like simple creature of the homo genus to an intellectual, opportunistic and complex being of the homo-sapien species with capacity to think, communicate, grow its own food, manipulate, cooperate, store/merge knowledge and apply it to further it’s own interests, multiply and ensure its own existence with a marked indifference, apathy towards the other earth dwellers and the environment. A species that believes it has achieved dominance over all other species to rise to the top of the food chain and seeks to gain control over the processes that determine its mortality to achieve an immortal status. But then continues to be restless, ruthless and discontent thanks to a deep-rooted unease and vulnerability. A sub-consciously insecure species that is driven and propelled by its insecurity, individual vulnerability, awareness of its ignorance among other factors rather than a pursuit of happiness.
Can’t think of any other book in this genre that attempts to cover human evolution history in a well rounded empathetic manner from multiple angles and render it with such logical clarity and with a heart and soul.