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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by…

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011)

by Yuval Noah Harari

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Why did an insignificant primate develop over the past 100,000 years to become the dominant species on earth? In this book human history is taken from a global perspective, focusing on key transitions across time such as agriculture, commerce and science - it is provocative and far-reaching.

I loved this book, it fits into a genre that I generally really enjoy - popular science/psychology/history. The ideas are huge but the writing is really accessible and the book is studded with little nuggets of fun or provocation. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
Detta är en bok som alla borde läsa. anledningen till att jag inte ger den 5 stjärnor är att författarens antagande om hur vår framtid kommer att se ut. Ingenting är omöjigt, men hans spådomar liknar, i mitt tycke, allför mycket sience fiction. ( )
  Bengan | Jun 15, 2017 |
I think part of what makes Harari’s book so popular is the way he packs a punch every now and then, one which clearly gives the reader an awareness of his low regard for homo sapiens. In the first chapter he mentions the improbability of sapiens lasting another thousand years, something that makes the reader anticipate how he’ll argue this later and in the second chapter he alludes to the cruelty of humans when explaining how our language allows us to ‘rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories’.

In fact, as I got into the book, I realised (again) how impossible it is to write history without also giving an opinion. Take the part where Harari writes about the clashes found in culture or the ‘network of artificial instincts’ as he puts it. He approves of the contradictions (e.g. a belief in both equality and individual liberty) and says ‘consistency is the playground of dull minds’.

It’s Harari’s style that makes this such a readable book. He has a habit of asking questions, perhaps two or three in a row and then answering them, usually briefly and as a way of introducing the next part of his argument about how and why things have evolved as they have. He also uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ when using the personal pronoun instead of ‘he’ and ‘him’, all part of his personal imprint on this history and one that I like.

I imagine religious people would find it a daunting read as he shows all their weaknesses and cruelties and he often does this in quite an evocative way, drawing parallels between what he is discussing and something else to drive home his point. All in all this leads to quite a conversational tone. In fact, I imagine this book could upset quite a lot of people, capitalists included, those ‘modern CEOs [who] don dreary uniforms called suits that afford them all the panache of a flock of crows’. While he is quite scathing about capitalism, I’d have liked to have heard more of how else he thinks we could cope better – but then this is meant to be a history. Only vegans, of whom he is one, escape from his virulent criticism of how humans treat animals.

The book leads to his conclusion which I had anticipated would be dismal with a prediction of humans wiped out by nuclear warfare or the irreversible climate change that we are now experiencing. Instead in ‘The Gilgamesh Project’ section of the book we read of scientists aiming to make man a-mortal, i.e. barring accidents able to live indefinitely, something he builds on in his final section exploring what I think are called cyborgs.

It seemed at time that Harari was giving in the latter part of his book more a history of the western world, especially when writing about the Industrial Revolution which I guess was much more a western development than, say, what happened in Africa. But it seems to me that when he talks of the way the state has taken over from the family and provides lots of services, he is ignoring the situation for so many people for whom their state does not provide.

I also felt that even though it’s only three years since he wrote this book, the situation today is bleaker than in 2014. Harari talks about how the Soviet Union peacefully gave up its tsarist conquests and mentions Ukraine as one of these – but now, of course, it is a source of concerning conflict. We have North Korea threatening nuclear war and huge upheaval in the Middle East, Syria in particular. And as I write this review we have Trump on his way to Riyadh ready perhaps to sign a weapons deal worth $100 billion. If peace is so much more profitable than war, as Harari states, why so much expenditure on weapons? Even he, elsewhere in his book, sees the futility of arms races.

This is a book I will return to. What Harari says goes well beyond history, happiness being based on self-delusion for example, where we fool ourselves that what we do is meaningful. As the author says, ‘this is quite a depressing conclusion’. ( )
1 vote evening | May 19, 2017 |
A wonderful books. Love the intro which connects Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History together. Slightly irreverent view of the world and human life. Makes you think! ( )
  jvgravy | May 15, 2017 |
A truly fantastic book...don't miss this.
  1greenprof | May 9, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yuval Noah Harariprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gower, NeilMapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Purcell, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watzman, HaimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In loving memory of my father, Shlomo Harari
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About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time, and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang.
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.
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