By Joseph Dieckmann
Human beings (members of the genus Homo) have existed for about 2.4 million years. Homo sapiens, our own wildly outrageous species of great apes, has only existed for 6% of that time – about 150,000 years.
So a book whose main title is “Sapiens” shouldn’t be subtitled “A Brief History of Humankind.” It’s easy to see why Yuval Noah Harrari devotes 95% of his book to us as a species: self-ignorant as we are, we still know far more about ourselves than about other species of human beings, including several that have become extinct since we first walked the Earth.
The fact remains that the history of “sapiens” – Harari’s name for us – is only a very small part of the history of humankind.
Can its full sweep be conveyed in one fell swoop – 400 pages? Not really; it’s easier to write a brief history of time – all 14 billion years – and Harari also spends many pages on our present and possible future rather than our past.
But the deep lines of the story of sapiens are fairly un-contentious, and he sets them out with verve.
For the first half of our existence we potter along unremarkably, then we undergo a series of revolutions. First, in the “Cognitive” Revolution, about 70,000 years ago, we started to behave in far more ingenious ways than before, for reasons that are still obscure, and we spread rapidly across the planet.
About 11,000 years ago, we entered the Agricultural Revolution, converting in increasing numbers from foraging (hunting and gathering) to farming.
The “Scientific Revolution” began about 500 years ago. It triggered the Industrial Revolution, about 250 years ago. This, in turn, triggered the Information Revolution, about 50 years ago.
That then sparked the Biotechnological Revolution, which is still wet behind the ears. Harari suspects that the Biotechnological Revolution signals the end of sapiens: we will be replaced by bio-engineered post-humans, “amortal” cyborgs, capable of living forever.
The book presents an in-depth account of recorded history as it regards humans. It also compares and contrasts ideas from ancient history to the modern 21st century world.
It goes on to discuss the main aspects of what makes a civilization, such as money, government, housing and much more.
Some of my favorite parts of the book was when the author starts talking about Mesopotamia and Sumeria.
In those chapters, he talks about a fertile paradise located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what in now modern day Iraq.
It was believed that Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization as we know it. It says that, at the time, Mesopotamia was the most advanced civilization.
I believe that if you’re looking for a book that has a little bit of every aspect of history, I think that you will enjoy this book very well.
Featured Image (at the top of this post): This is the cover of Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind.” PHOTO CREDIT:宋世怡 / Wikimedia Commons
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