Sapiens took months to read/listen to but it was worth it! Yuval Noah Harari’s book that I’d actually bought to read was 21 Lessons For The 21st Century. I somehow ended up leaving it for my team at work because there was a chapter relevant to our consultancy project. Coincidentally, a leaving gift they’d bought me was Sapiens so I here I am
This book was fascinating and so informative without being intimidating. I felt I was being casually talked through alot of ideas, some amazing and new, some I’ve heard before, some felt like I should have known. It’s quite surface level though, since he is trying to cover the entire progression of Sapiens to date, you’re not going to get an in depth study but I wasn’t looking for that to be honest.
I had a lot of favourite moments in the book, the ideas are very engaging
Something that has always fascinated me is that almost all the systems and cultures we have in place are only legitimate because we have agreed on a set of ideas. A Limited Liability Company only works as a structure because we have agreed on it. Money only has value because we agreed- or were made to agree- that it does. Time zones are literally invisible lines that only exist because we agreed and accepted. What happens when we stop agreeing? Let’s all stop and see what happens.
Harari asks whether we domesticated wheat or it domesticated us. After all, Sapiens did change lifestyles from nomadic to sedentary to tend to the crop. Meanwhile the crop evolved from growing haphazardly in a few areas of the world to being grown everywhere in premium conditions, tended to by humans. I think we still won though because we eat it.
Harari centres his narrative through a series of revolutions in sequence- the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the scientific revolution, followed by industrial, information and biotech revolutions. The latter he thinks we will use to self destruct which he discusses in Homo Deus. Sounds wild.
There are a few questions about the human condition
Commendably, he does question whether all of these advances have made us happier and better off. Are we happier because we can use our phones to run our lives? Are we happier because we can fly across the world on a whim? Or was it all for nothing? He argues that Sapiens will never be satisfied, using the Gilgamesh project (if successful) as an example. Even if we could be immortal via prevention of the ageing process, we wouldn’t be immune to spontaneous fatal accidents and also, only the rich would be able to afford it. Harari does ask us to interrogate human condition and you can feel Harari gearing up to his next book toward the end.
I recommend Sapiens. It Isn’t a perfect book but you will learn ALOT
I would say you have to take parts of the book with a pinch of salt. A lot of it seems to be Harari’s interpretation and opinion of historical events rather than cold hard historical facts. Be open to disagreeing with some aspects or more importantly- coming up with your own interpretation.
One thing I didn’t like was the indifference with which colonialism and empire is approached. You will find this in most history books in the name of objectivity which I get but it will never sit well with me.
This is the first book I Listened to on Audible more than I read, it would have taken a year to finish otherwise. At first the readers voice was a bit too news-caster for me but eventually it was comforting (Stockholm Syndrome?). I think not being able to see diagrams and visualise the words did impact my experience of the book.
I’m still going to read 21 Lessons , looking forward to it. Tell you about it next year.
Sapiens was published by Vintage Books (Penguin) in 2015