Book Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

It is not easy to sum up this book in a short review, but I can imagine it wasn’t easy to sum up human history into 443 pages, so I’ll try. Yuval Noah Harari goes over human history from hunter-gatherers to modern civilizations with science that both are sustaining our lives and helping us to destroy this lovely planet (mass-production and so on.) He takes a critical look into our history and what we take for granted like agriculture. It is what made us who we are now, making possible the growth of human population, altering our thinking and changing our behavior. He argues that it is also where the spiraling downfall to misery started. That hunter-gatherers were happier than us who run after new fads after new fads and who are destroying our planet while at it. Someone might argue that his thinking is wrong as agriculture, the invention of money, and vast civilizations have brought us knowledge of the universe and technological marvels and a sophisticated culture of arts and literature, but there is the fact that we cannot go around even with such arguments and that is the rise of discontent is real. Mental health problems, sleeping disorders, and other neurosis have riddled our societies, are they the price we have to pay to have capitalism as our ideology? (Which Yuval Noah Harari takes a look at also in this lovely book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind along with the creation of money, religions, bureaucracy, consumerism, the scientific revolution, colonialism…)

This is not a rant of a mad man (sorry to put such an image in your head,) he argues and criticizes and re-pictures our human history from a scientific perspective, drawing his conclusions from studies done. Of course, you can always take apart the studies he leans on and find fault in there and fault in his writing, and I think such a thing should be done to further our understanding of the subject and broaden the discussion around the topic, but for now, the book has a lot to offer. (I’m not a big fan of his statement that we don’t have free will, not when he writes about in the same breath how there is still a choice that all that has happened isn’t necessary or doesn’t mean a deterministic view of genes or even environment. Yes, we are dependent of our upbringing, our environment, our culture, our genes, and all those influences what we do and how we make decisions, but I think we have a lot more saying than those who say we don’t have free will believe. We are responsible of our actions, and our past and genes don’t give us excuses or dominate our actions so that we don’t have a choice to act differently in a situation like a pub brawl or in the time of war.) The best part of the book is, it makes us all rethink our history, to see our ideologies, structures, and habits from a new perspective, making this a relevant book even when you would disagree with Mr. Harari about hunter-gatherer society being the best there is for humanity.

As you see, I highly enjoyed the book. While some of it was old news (human group behavior, creating money, criticism of capitalism, and so on,) it still made me think. To re-evaluate what I know and how I see the world. And to add, Yuval Noah Harari is an excellent writer.

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