Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a tough one to review, this book packs a heavy punch.

On the surface, this is a book that is essentially an anthropological history of history itself when it comes to our species. There are numerous interesting points when it comes to the development and cultural evolution of the human race, some of which have changed the way I look at historical events and revolutions.

The most widely referenced in regards to this book is Harari’s opinion on the Agricultural Revolution. This was the first time I had come across such an opinion regarding how it was widely a step backwards for our species and it was very eye opening to see things from the other side of the fence. Its intriguing that as much as we believed ourselves to be moving forward and making lives easy for ourselves, we actually fell victim to the Luxury Trap, meaning that our new luxuries require more work to be done in order to maintain them. This I believe is an extremely important concept that we should all understand so that we can break the cycle in order to live more fulfilling lives. I know its something that I will be working on.

However, his point on the Agricultural Revolution isn’t his greatest work in the book as other reviews may lead you to believe. I see his greatest achievement in this book as filling in the gaps in history that are often left unexplained or assumed. For example, why did the Scientific Revolution mainly occur in Europe when the tools for it had already been invented and discovered in other parts of the world? What were the sociological and geopolitical factors that led to developments in some parts of the world and not the other? How did the philosophical views of society influence the ways they saw crime and punishment 500 years ago as compared to today? These questions and more are addressed in this book. This alone made it a beneficial read for me, too often history books may overlook the ‘why’ in favour of the ‘how’, but this book fills some of those gaps.

Harari’s approach into discussing such ‘why’ questions can often feel as though there are no other opinions. This is one thing I didnt like about the book. At times I found myself being led into a rabbit hole of thinking that I had to mentally unshackle myself from so as to not blindly believe everything Harari stated. This isnt necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to Harari’s perspective on Religion I sometimes found him ill-informed and lacking. Despite the great research present in the rest of the book. it would be dangerous to blindly take every idea on board, but this is the same for most books.

One thing I am specifically impressed about is one of Harari’s ending chapters on the measure of happiness over time. While Historians diligently write and document history, we barely know much about the real impacts of such events and revolutions upon the happiness of individuals, indeed it is only a recent area of study and not one with a lot of evidence for psychologists to analyse historically. Nonetheless, the essential questions are asked. If the exact same levels of happiness and achievement were felt by a peasant building a mud hut for his family 2000 years ago as compared to a person taking ownership of a luxury mansion today, have we really made progress? Have our struggles and advancement really been worth it? Tough questions that sound simple on the surface, but are much more complex when looked at philosophically.

All in all, despite some personal disagreements with Harari’s view on Religion, I learnt a TONNE of new things from this book. I widened my horizons and learnt countless new concepts. It is a long read, but very efficient in terms of the things you will learn.

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