book: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
author: Yuval Noah Harari

general overview

this is a mind-blowing read. although it’s chock full of complex subject matter, the organization of Sapiens makes it an easy-to-follow read. i felt both my perspective and mind expand while exploring where humans have come from and where we may go in the future, according to Harari. it’s a beautiful piece on how we became who we are.

summary notes

life lessons on values

Dr. Harari claims this is a “brief history” but Sapiens feels more like a deep dive into how humans evolved. he delves into how the earth was home to six human species just 100,000 years ago, and today, homo sapiens are the only species that remains. from the Stone Age to the cultural and technological revolutions that steered and defined our way of life, Harari covers the most pivotal times in history and what they meant for humankind.

evolution and growth through revolutions

Dr. Harari divides his work by four milestones in the history of homo sapiens: 

  • the Cognitive Revolution, 
  • the Agricultural Revolution, 
  • the unification of humankind,
  • the Scientific Revolution. 

the Cognitive Revolution explains how homo sapiens differentiates itself from other animals. our cognitive and behavioral traits show we’re able to think and plan in an abstract way. it also points to more fundamental behaviors, like the technology of simple blades and the ability to create and enjoy art, dance, and music. 

the Agricultural Revolution covers the period where human cultures began to gather and establish agricultural processes that led to settlements. the unification of humankind (my personal favorite) dives into globalization and what trade, ideas, culture, religion, politics, and so on has actually meant for us as a species. 

the Scientific Revolution, as you can probably guess, touches on the evolution of scientific studies, discoveries, innovations in technology, and how our species has studied, defined, and manipulated the world around us.

when in doubt, look at science

another point that stood out to me and keeps popping back up in my mind is who and what Dr. Harari cites as being a great inspiration for the book. Dr. Harari refers to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as a huge help while writing Sapiens because it showed him that he was able to “ask very big questions and answer them scientifically”. to me this appears like an academic, thoughtful, and well-rounded way to look at humans and understand how we got to where we are today.

why homosapiens are the dominant species

a theory that stuck with me and really made me think about how special homosapiens are is this: Dr. Harari poses that homosapiens dominate the world today because we’re the only animal that can cooperate in large numbers. 

his argument is that prehistoric homosapiens overpowered and caused the extinction of the other human-like species on the planet, such as Neanderthals. Harari goes on to explain his theory that homosapiens have the unique ability to interact with abstract objects and theories that only exist in the imagination, like religion, money, rights, and so on.

science = enlightenment

Dr. Harari explains that the Scientific Revolution’s roots are in innovation, European thought, and an ambition to become less ignorant. our desire to understand the world around us leads to the ability to manipulate it to make our lives easier, longer, and more enjoyable. Harari cites this desire to be less ignorant as a main driver of modern European imperialism and the subsequent blending of global cultures.

there is another perspective that comes out of this period of innovation and discovery. According to Dr. Harari, technology and innovation isn’t necessarily making homosapiens happier. he explains that individual homosapiens today aren’t significantly happier than they were in eras gone by. although he does admit there is a lack of scientific research on the happiness of homosapiens over time.

enlightenment = doom?

this is where Dr. Harari gets a little dark: he elaborates on the downsides of homo-sapiens’ scientific discoveries. he poses that the planet, our only home, has suffered greatly because exploding population growth and the mistreatment of animals. 

Dr. Harari doesn’t believe we happier because of all the technological and material advances we’ve made. he believes we’re just as happy, but with a capitalistic system casting a shadow on everything that was once pure. 

he even goes as far as to say that genetic innovations may cause homosapiens to evolve further into completely different beings with godlike abilities and qualities. that sounds like the new, hottest science-fiction flick to me.