A Book Detailing the Rise of Humans Changed My View of Life
This originally appeared on The Passion of Christopher Pierznik
A “quake book” is one that shakes your foundation and alters your worldview. After you finish it, you are fundamentally changed.
Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens is a quake book for me.
The subtitle of Sapiens is “A Brief History of Humankind.” How can a book that chronicles the entire history of humans be brief? How can it be exhaustive yet still light? And how can it take something so dense and boring and make it not only easy to read, but fascinating?
Of all the things that makes it an important book, the fact that it doesn’t feel like an important book — a.k.a. a textbook — may be the most critical. It is 464 pages, but considering the width and breadth of the subject matter, it could have easily been five or ten times that length. Harari’s ability to fully examine and explain a particular instance or innovation without being heavy-handed is key. He also tells illuminating, often humorous stories, and is able to make something that happened half-a-million years ago seem not only relevant, but current and applicable.
The book is centered around three revolutions that forever changed and shaped human history: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, and the Scientific Revolution. These are the three major steps that we humans experienced to go from small tribes of foragers trying to survive another day to a giant global community that has gone to bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains and even to the moon.
While Sapiens doesn’t speak to me on a personal level like The Tender Bar, it did still change my entire outlook because it redefined who I am, not merely from a personality perspective, but from a biological one. It gave definitions and explanations to why we do what we do, how we have evolved over the millennia, and how often things could have turned out completely differently.
Did you know that there were up to six different species of humans walking the Earth at the same time? Did you ever stop to think about why, in comparison to all other animals that begin walking and become independent within a very short time, human children are naturally helpless and dependent for years? How about the fact that we all live in a dual reality — an objective reality composed of rivers, trees, and lions alongside an imagined reality of nations, corporations, and money? Have you ever thought about the concept of shopping and considered that while sapiens have been around for millions of years, it has only been a part of life for, at most, a couple hundred years? How about the question of what makes us human — if we upload our brains to a computer or replace our limbs with bionic ones, are we still humans?
In our frenzied digital world, where everything moves at lightning speed and last week is treated like ancient history, the complete history of humankind is a necessary reminder of where we came from, where we’re going, and all of the elements that had to come together for us to be able to text your friend in another hemisphere while eating a rare animal from the other side of the world in warmth and comfort.
I send out a Monthly Reading Newsletter every month, so if you have a book that shook your worldview, please leave it in the responses below!