The book that changed everything
Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
What even is this book? I feel like every book I have recently read is better than the one before, but “Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind” seems to be from another world.
What is it about?
Well, history…..mostly. And social science. And politics, and biology and the future and the past and so on. It’s difficult to define because while technically speaking in terms of history, Yuval Noah Harari — an Oxford-educated Historian (and so much more) — creates links between history and everyday life thus information you have already heard about is placed in context with complex theories and facts which are otherwise difficult to grasp. Transforming the complicated in a way everyone can understand it is a skill only a few authors possess and Yuval Noah Harari mastered it.
A Brief History of Humankind is the perfect title because somehow Harari manages to start at the evolution of the first humans and to finish in the present, all within one book. While talking on one side about events, eras and inventions you already know at least pieces about, Harari introduces his readers to stuff like giant sloths (?!), the megafauna of Australia and the Cognitive Revolution, historical findings and theories that aren’t necessarily considered general knowledge, but are incredibly interesting and surprisingly important to our social evolution. The book is divided into four sections, aligned chronologically, with every era being epitomized and its consequences shown in context to humanity and the rest of the planet. While I feel like common education about our history usually only starts at the Agricultural Revolution, Harari devotes a whole section to the species human (there were more types of humans than just us sapiens, duh) as well as taking a closer look at our ancestors, the ancient hunters and gathers. He resolves some common (albeit wrong) beliefs about our ancestors/relatives, with some of which we Sapiens have lived contemporaneously for quite some time. Turns out this era was much more interesting than depicted in media. Not only where they a lot smarter than one might think — after all they had to remember everything about their surroundings as there was no way of storing all this information — other human species also endured for a much longer time compared to us Sapiens.
This was the first and most sticking insight to me, because since we, within our society, are so obsessed with ourselves and what will happen in the future, we forget that there were other humans before us and they, as well as animals, have a history of their own. To me this really put things into perspective and simultaneously woke my interest for exactly those questions to be asked by Harari next, like “What makes us Sapiens so special” and “How did we distinguish ourselves from our ancestors”. He meets these questions in the following chapters the keyword being cooperation. As it is, our ability to cooperate in large groups is what makes us so special, a realization I would have never come to.
Understanding these two key observations changed my entire mindset and everything else Harari brought to me within this book left me in a similar awe, from the history of money, to the role of religion and the consequences of science I came to see the world and our human society in a different light.
While I have read books equally astonishing, Sapiens is — to me — a must read, not because it’s entertaining, informative or breathtaking (which it all is), but because it changed the way I think about myself, the human race, the world and everything else in general. Writing a book that tangents topics like politics and society while staying objective within doing so is hardly achievable, because while restraining from giving your own opinion directly is possible, the choice of words and the topics one decides to mention always reveal something about the person doing the writing. But I feel like Harari really put effort into staying objective and is utterly close to reciting and summarizing information whilst confining from any form of expressing his personal opinion (except for the part about animals and their suffering, which does have a high density of connoted words and made me think he’s probably vegetarian/vegan — which he is by the way).
To the end Harari surprises his readers one last time by asking questions I have never read, seen or heard from any historian or intellectual ever:
What good brought us all of this? Are we happier now than when Sapiens where running around gathering plants and hunting mammoths? Asking these questions and attempting to answer them as meticulously as possible is what makes this book more than just a book about history.
Luckily this is not the end, because there is another probably just as mind-blowing and revealing book by Noah Harari. “Homo Deus — A Brief History of Tomorrow”, published in 2015, focusses on our future and concerns itself with the question where humanity will go from here, and seeing people (one of them being Bill Gates) going into rapture about it sets my expectations high and I can’t wait to get started.