Review – Sapiens

Cover of A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval HarariSapiens, Yuval Noah Harari

I actually originally encountered this because I wanted to do Harari’s course on the history of humankind on Coursera or one of the other MOOC sites, and I just didn’t have the time. I hoped the book would be a good substitute, picked it up, and was promptly daunted by the size of it. That’s unfair to the book, though: it’s actually immensely readable. It treats time as a progression from physics to chemistry to biology to history, through Agricultural and Cognitive Revolutions through to Industrial ones: the story of the universe is at first told in the terms of physics, and then eventually using human eye witness accounts and evidence. It’s a fairly anthropocentric view, narrowing it down to our perspective on the past, but Harari acknowledges that.

Harari manages to be fairly even handed in discussing capitalism, communism, ideology, religion, and all those difficult topics. While sometimes I thought I could tell what his opinion on each one was, he was generally fair about the appeal even of ideologies which have failed in practice. It’s a weird mix of pessimism and optimism, really, because Harari mentions the declining rates of violence, the increasing rates of health, but also the flat rate of happiness. The fact that, for all that we do, humans don’t seem to be any happier than they were eight to eight hundred years ago.

I enjoyed it, and thought it was a solid and interesting overview of human history, and the potentials for a human future. The readability and clarity of the prose is definitely in its favour.

Rating: 5/5

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