Book Review: ‘Sapiens’ By Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens By Yuval Noah Harari: About the Book

Thank you for taking the time to read my review of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Currently, I am writing from my sunny balcony, which is a true blessing in the midst of our lockdown. Thank you also to Darren Smith for inviting me to contribute. A great challenge which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and I hope you enjoy reading too.

Let’s start at the very beginning. In fact, let’s start by stating I LOVE a review! I hope you can feel my passion in the CAPS! I devour the Sunday supplement and all of the wonderful books reviewed there. Perhaps, it allows me to feel like I’ve actually read it, without even lifting a finger! So after a first-hand review from the book savvy in-laws, I bit the bullet and picked up Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’d also been given Homo Deus which is the ‘sequel’, so thought it best to start at the very beginning. This, funnily enough, is where Mr Harari starts too.
Sapiens takes us through the history of mankind, from our chemical molecular beginnings to our possible (and possibly precarious) future endeavours. As a foreword to the book Harari says:

‘I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and to not be afraid of controversial issues’.

This is essentially the framework for the book. As Harari considers our former forager ancestors and their ability to live within their means, he addresses a key question for the developed world. Does more choice at our fingertips, really make us any happier? Science can only really guess, but I think we already know our answer.

Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari, Book Cover

A Brief History of Humankind Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

The Story of Humankind

I’ll add here that I’m no scientist. Nor am I an expert in anthropology. And despite this, I found the subject matter utterly compelling. By breaking down each seismic change into revolutions (Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific) Harari allows you to follow the story of humankind step by step.
Each of these evolutionary phases helped us further and further up the food chain. And Harari is not afraid to point the finger too. When considering how Homo Sapiens managed to see off our Neanderthal and Homo Floresiensis relatives, he provides a solid argument that we may have systematically wiped them out. Or in Mexico, when the Spanish arrived, not only did they bring their diseases with them (nice) they wiped out the ancient civilisations in a number of horrible histories style crusades.

Providing Balance

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari is still careful to provide balance. It is not just a date by date study of history and science. Or an attack on the human race. It has a wonderful narrative bubbling through. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of religion and the destruction we deem righteous in our deities name, he shows real affection for Buddhism and that there is proven scientific evidence in the power of meditation.

Harari also provides multiple viewpoints for how we got here and how we view our world. We can’t just cast globalisation as the bad guy. Yes, we have to be acutely aware of what we are doing to our planet and be mindful we don’t destroy it for our own capitalist greed. But we also should consider how peaceful our current world is, how wars now operate on a tiny scale and even then come to end with some international intervention. Or in the case of child mortality, where co-operation and advances in worldwide medical research have helped the miracle of childbirth stay a miracle.

Homo Deus: The Next Evolution

Harari finishes the book by whetting our appetite for Homo Deus. Posing the question of our next evolution towards divinity and ever-lasting life. And what cost will this bring to our species and our world?

A Hat-Trick of Learnings

On the helpful notes I was sent before writing this it asked me to consider what I had done differently as a result of reading this book. In the midst of our current lockdown, I’ve had plenty of time to consider this. And I think it’s a hat-trick of learnings:

  1. I love reading. It takes you away from your current situation and fills your ears with someone else’s voice. I sacrifice it far too often for Netflix and Iplayer and it rightly deserves time too.
  2. An objective factual scientific viewpoint (Like Mr Harari) takes all the noise away. It is clear and to the point and a great distraction from the loud and possibly biased ‘fake news’.
  3. That I should practise gratitude more. I’ve always thought it, but don’t actually do it. Mr Fatboy Sim echoes Mr Harari with, ‘We’ve come a long long way together, through the hard times and the rain. I have to celebrate you, baby. I have to praise you like I should’.

Final Thoughts

Being able to read and think and write this review is a blessing. One I’m incredibly grateful for. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I devoured it. In fact, I loved it so much I’ve started Homo Deus. It’s started off brilliantly, so if you like this review and I’m asked to share more… I’ll take Mr Schwarzenegger’s words and say ‘I’ll be back!’.

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