Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Book Review

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

I was impressed by Sapiens. I have read some books that cover some of the same material. For example, books by Jared Diamond, Nicholas Wade, and Jacob Bronowski. Of those three authors, it is the closest in ambition to Bronowski’s Ascent of Man back from the 1970s, except it is significantly better. I thought the book almost merged into moral and political philosophy because it was subtly giving you analytical tools to judge culture. For example, the book states all large societies use great myths (religion, countries, moral codes, money, financial institutions, family institutions) to generate social cohesion to make large societies function. But can we judge one more or less moral than another? I think the answer implies the answer is yes and implies some criteria.

It not only merges into moral philosophy but it also merges into the realms of religion replacing religion with science. That is not uncommon, but when you get a sharp thinker and writer like Harari it is much more convincing.

The parts about animal husbandry are incendiary. From age old practices to modern slaughterhouses, “tens of billions of animals have been subjected to a regime of industrial exploitation whose cruelty has no precedent in the annals of planet Earth. If we accept a mere tenth of what animal rights activists are claiming, then modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in history.” The descriptions of some of these practices are chilling, perhaps enough to persuade you towards vegetarianism.

I found it strangely comforting, in these bad sad days of war and terrorism and misogyny and hatred, to be reminded that this phase we’re in where we work as urban labourers and office workers has only lasted a couple hundred years. The 10,000 years before that, we were farmers and herders, and even that is a vanishing second compared to the tens of thousands of years of human hunters and gatherers. We have a long way to go and much more to learn. And anyway, the nihilists have always known that “from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning.” Anyone interested in learning how the world works, and why it works the way it does, needs to read this. Giving it an honest read — put aside all your cognitive biases about everything — will open your eyes, and free your mind so that you can think critically. Since “Sapiens” is a book of actual “facts,” some readers in this “post-truth” world might have a hard time swallowing it. Anyone finding this book difficult to read probably doesn’t understand what “facts” and “evidence” are. These days, the line between facts and opinions very nearly doesn’t exist. This book draws a hard and desperately needed line between the two.

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