Sapiens by Yoval Noah Harari


Sapiens is a multi-disciplinary book that covers 2.5 million years of human history, from the advent of agriculture to the rise of monotheistic religions and the scientific revolution.

The book takes a macro and micro view, conveying not only what happened and why, but also how it felt for individuals. Harari argues that humans became the dominant species we are today because of our ability to create myths and tell stories.

The main themes of Sapiens include the idea that human society has largely been driven by our species’s capacity to believe in fictions, such as gods or nations; our belief in them allows us to cooperate on a societal level.

Additionally, the book posits that humans are powerful because we can tell stories, and that the way people cooperate can be changed by changing the myths we tell.

Useful takeaways from Sapiens include:

  • Humans are ecological serial killers, even with stone-age tools, our ancestors wiped out half the planet’s large terrestrial mammals well before the advent of agriculture.
  • The book invites us to question our basic narratives of the world and connect past developments with present concerns.
  • The most important question may be: has all this material progress made homo sapiens any happier?
  • History began when humans invented gods – and will end when humans become gods.
  • Humans rule the world because we are the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in our own imagination, such as gods, states, money, and human rights.

What I Liked

The prose is absolutely amazing. He makes even the biggest, most complicated ideas in anthropology, sociology, and history accessible and understandable. Whether you agree with his ideas in whole, in part, or not at all – I like how he gives an accessible, clear argument for how to understand human civilization.

What I Did Not Like

Not a whole lot – it’s a brilliant book through and through, even for readers who might disagree with the ideas in whole or in part.

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