Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — A Book More Needed Than Ever
Our history is a powerful thing. “Don’t let it repeat itself”, a rather ubiquitous phrase. It’s also one of the most striking ones, especially in times like these, when populist’s demagogues in the western world doesn’t seem to have the slightest clue of what parts of history they’re reproducing. The latter is something that receives massive media coverage, a crystal clear example of how the ghosts of history have the power to resurge and haunt us. But there are also subtler aspects of history that all of us contribute to, deliberately or not. After finishing Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, I started to perceive politics, my beliefs and my surroundings in a different light.
When history class is next up on the schedule, formal school education has a record of not getting its subjected to sparkle with enthusiasm. I consider myself not eligible to deliver a substantiated take on what teaching methods to apply in order to turn it around. But with all certainty, it’s a worrying sign that this kind of knowledge fails to appeal to so many of us. The root to the lack of interest in history seems to be an issue of the format, not the discipline itself. But with this book, maybe there’s a change on the horizon.
It became an instant bestseller, praised by world leaders such as Bill Gates and President Obama. If it’s capable to appeal to so many people by discussing theories on history from academia, people obviously find historical events and it’s consequences interesting, but possibly prefer to accumulate knowledge from a fast paced book rather than professors with a shortage of pedagogic abilities. In this case, academedia and poplar culture converges, which can’t possibly be a bad thing.
The Israeli author undertakes the daunting task to give the reader a comprehensive view of how homo sapiens evolved and became the sole conquer of the globe. He starts out with geographical and biological matters, how we spread and physically evolved. But in the context of this publication and in accordance to my personal beliefs, this is not the books strongest and provocative parts.
The most compelling side of the work is the consequent understanding that everything, and I really mean — everything, is a construct. Your beliefs can all be traced back to something that at some point in time was invented for a distinct purpose. And don’t think that belief in this context is confined to religion. No, really everything is a construct equal to notions of fiction and myth. If you consider yourself an atheist with no connection to religion whatsoever, then this book will make you reconsider. You’re a product that stems from some kind of religious process.
If you enter the reading process open minded and let the book grab ahold of you, without necessarily having to agree with everything, it will still alter some of your preferences and perspectives. Because what this blend of popular culture and science does is that it forces you to think for yourself and challenges your prevailing perceptions. This is a declining phenomena of our time. Critical thinking and the subsequent formulation of ideas that used to occur within our skulls is increasingly moving into the devices and minds of social media.
One line stood out for me, which captured the philosophy of the work.
We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine
This quote leads us into a more intangible aspect, located between the lines: The book carries a strain of rebellion.
With its nature to question the frameworks which we live out our lives within, it has the potential to place a troubled, thoughtful mind on a fresh trajectory, because it sheds lights on the fact that our social environment is malleable. These are big words, but nevertheless true. It also delivers a sense of opportunity, that the right actions can disrupt a fixed system by questioning its most dubious aspects and possibly harvest extensive change. In other words, it opens our eyes to the fragility and temporary nature of it all, rather than the common initial thought of permanency.
What’s more is , paradoxically to the previous paragraph, it could also function as an antidote to cultural and political polarization. If everything is just made up concepts, and if everyone got that fact straight, don’t we have bigger objectives to strive for rather than our pure mundane disputes over political systems and borders? Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds. But I draw parallels to astronauts that have looked down on earth from space, and while seeing the tiny blue dot of a planet floating around in the void of darkness, developed entirely new perspectives. From up there, they came to the conclusion of our history, religions and ideologies is pure fiction. This book is one of the closest thing, if not the closest thing, we can use if we want to relate to the insights of those astronauts.
Every significant piece of content is something that turns us into another version of ourselves, for the better. It’ll make us detect opportunities rather than obstacles. I’m a changed individual after this book, and hope that as many people as possible dare to change as well.