10 February 2015
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
About 100,000 years ago, Homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. Our ancestors shared the planet with at least five other human species, and their role in the ecosystem was no greater than that of gorillas, fireflies, or jellyfish. Then, about 70,000 years ago, a mysterious change took place in the mind of Homo sapiens, transforming it into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, acquiring divine abilities of creation and destruction. * How did Homo sapiens conquer Earth? * What befell the other human species? * When did money, states and religion appear, and why? * How did science and capitalism become the dominant creeds of the modern era? * Does history have a direction? * Is there justice in history? * Did people become happier as history unfolded? * And what are the chances that Homo sapiens will still be around in a hundred years?
As much as I like medicine and epidemiology, a wee little bit of me is still the little girl who wanted to be a paleontologist when she grew up. So a book like Sapiens appeared to be a nice sidetrip to explore the part of science that I don't see on a regular basis.
However, as much as we shelve this book in the "Science" section of the store under "Chem/Bio" where the books on evolution are kept, this isn't a science or paleontology book in the way that I would define it. It definitely falls more into the anthropology category and strikes me as a book about the social history of homo sapiens rather than the actual biology of our species. There's some biology, but not a great deal.
The beginning of Sapiens is very interesting, particularly the examination of the question did we evolve directly in a line, one human species after another, or did several homo species exist at the same time with homo sapiens eventually out-competing the others for dominance (we are particularly good at out-competing/extincting other species of all varieties). And then the evolution of homo sapiens from hunter-gatherers/nomadic tribes to small farming villages then larger villages to cities. I quite liked the book up until the turn of modern history.
Then it felt boring. To me, a great deal of ground in modern history has been covered before by other books I've read. So a re-hashing followed by predictions of the outcome of homo sapiens didn't end the book in a good way, in my opinion. I also felt some things were glossed over (the use of slavery or the European/American slave trade was mentioned several times but feudalism or serfdom was not - that I could find - and I found that an odd omission).
Dear FTC: I received access to a digital advance copy from the publisher.