Sapiens – A Brief History Of Humankind; 5 Great Takeaways

Book Review: Sapiens - A Brief History Of Humankind

About the Author

Yuval Noah Harari is a public intellectual, historian, author, and Professor in the History Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He published various articles and books that were critically acclaimed and became best-sellers soon after publication.

Yuval Noah Harari
  • He has written numerous notable books like –
    • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
    • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
    • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens – A Brief History Of Humankind

The book Sapiens: A brief history of humankind was initially published in Hebrew in 2011. The book is based on 20 discourses on an undergraduate World History class Harari was taking. Twenty lectures were revamped into 20 chapters which soon came to be well-known globally. 

The book was printed in English three years later, and since then, it has been translated into more than 45 languages. 

It is a highly engaging history book. It starts from the Stone Age era and the lives of homo sapiens spanning over generations right to the 21st Century and the present world we live in. It will give you a great insight into the understanding of humankind straight from the outset of human life. 

You will be offered the mastery of human affairs through the lens of evolution, agriculture, and economics. In addition, Harari’s book provides a venture into the origin of homo (man) into homo sapiens (wise man)

Yuval Noah Harari tries to amass 100,000 years in nearly 450 pages from the outset of the cognitive revolution to the agricultural revolution. He also goes on to explain artificial intelligence and its aftermath on humankind. Lastly, the scientific revolution saw a massive surge 500 years ago.

Major Takeaways from the Book

1. The Cognitive Revolution

‘Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world.’

The Cognitive Revolution commenced some 70,000 years ago when homo sapiens began to behave unusually.

Many anthropologists hold the opinion that the species was just a group of foragers wandering across East Africa. Then around 70000 years ago, a drastic change took place. Our predecessors unexpectedly overcame their inertness and moved out of Africa. They started to spread hastily across the world. The explanations for this different functioning are still vague.

The Cognitive Revolution

Harari proposes that “Tree of Knowledge mutation,” which is still obscured, transformed the “inner wiring” of our brains, helping us “to communicate using an altogether new type of language,” which led to complicity among Homo Sapiens and population exploded all over the world. 

2. The Role of Intersubjective

Harari put a question in the book, ‘What is so special about the new Sapiens language that it enabled us to conquer the world?’ 

According to Harari, our intersubjective allows us to conquer this world. This is because Homo Sapiens carries the unique ability to communicate about things that do not exist in the natural world. For example – Religion, laws, nations, money, etc. Intersubjective is something that prevails only in the communication web of humans. If a single individual shifts their opinion and perishes in such a network, its impact is minor. But if many people change their opinion or die, it causes a mutation or disappearance in the intersubjective. 

The Role of Intersubjective

To take another example, Harari says if Peugeot, a French automobile company, was to kill all its stakeholders and laborers, the company wouldn’t cease to exist. And if the company decides to manufacture planes instead of cars, the company still wouldn’t transform; hence, what they execute does not define them. If they were to shift offices, the building also does not define their company. Thus, Peugeot is Peugeot because our collective intersubjective acknowledges that Peugeot exists.

3. The Agricultural Revolution

Similarly, 11,000 years ago entered the Agricultural Revolution when the ‘hunters and gatherers’ turned to farmers, and agrarian practices were introduced. Harari names the initial chapter of this part – History’s Biggest Fraud

To give you an insight about the content, Harari’s standpoint about the Agricultural Revolution was –

The Agricultural Revolution

“Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager and got a worse diet in return. Thus, the Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.”

4. History’s Biggest Trap

Harari used an example of wheat to explain how Agricultural Revolution changed the conditions for the worse. Years ago, wheat was just a wild grass that was grown mainly in the Middle East region. According to Harari, wheat emerged as one of the most major crops by manipulating Homo Sapiens to its advantage. A time came when Homo Sapiens spent all of their days growing wheat. The body of a human was not tailored to do these chores. They were made to climb trees, hunt animals – not carry buckets and clear pebbles. 

Ancient skeleton research demonstrated that the shift in human activities brought several diseases like slipped discs and arthritis. The natural diet of Sapiens is omnivorous, so wheat was not a better diet.

History's Biggest Trap

Moreover, it did not provide financial security or violence security. But it did allow the population to grow exponentially. So, the aim became to make as many homo sapiens as possible without considering their condition. 

But again, Harari asks, ‘Why would any sane person lower his standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the Homo Sapiens genome?’

5. The Scientific Revolution

Harari then describes the arrival of the Scientific Revolution and, with it, developed the Industrial Revolution. He correlated Scientific knowledge with the knowledge people obtained from their ancient scriptures are religious beliefs.

He defines, The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been, above all, a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.” 

The Technological Revolution soon followed them, and thus Harari anticipates that the Biotechnological Revolution will signify the end of humankind. But, other than myriad revolutions, Harari also imbued other substantial occurrences, for instance, the development of language and abstract notions.

Sapiens is not your ordinary self-help book but a means to get familiar with your species – the progress of species allows us to explore the pattern of learning and developing. By understanding our past, we can concentrate on building a better future.

As Harari himself puts it, “This is the best reason to learn history: not to predict the future but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course, this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.”

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