The title is fairly descriptive, Sapiens is Yuval Noah Harari’s history of Humankind. Right from the big bang up until today. It takes a perspective from outside humankind, which generates some hilarious results. For example, a picture of Pope Francis has a caption best read in the voice of David Attenborough.
“The Catholic alpha male abstains from sexual intercourse and childcare, even though there is no genetic or ecological reason for him to do so.”
I found this ‘from another world’ perspective entertaining and informative. And for me, one of the big take aways was in the opening chapters of what Harari dubbs the ‘cognitive revolution’. How between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago Sapiens evolved new ways of thinking and communicating. That this development, unique to humans, allowed us to transmit information about things that do not exist at all.
“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven”.
Yuval argues that our ability to tell stories and create ‘imagined orders’ is what has enabled much of our innovation. He goes on to describe the car company Peugeot as 200,000 strangers that work together to create 1.8 million automobiles a year. Yet, the company itself is a figment of our collective imaginations.
“Lawyers call this a ‘legal fiction’. It can’t be pointed at; it is not a physical object. But it exists as a legal entity. Just like you or me, it is bound by the laws of the countries in which it operates. It can open an bank account and open property. It pays taxes, and it can be sued and even prosecuted separately from any of the people who own or work for it.”
I found the chapters on money, trade and empire fascinating. Harari suggests that trade and conflict are largely responsible for forging a global, unified empire. Held together by a common culture and common interests. Yuval also covers the emergence of religion, politics, science and art along with how each influences one another.
You know what? This is easily in my top-ten books. For me it had a few of those epic ideas that nudges your perspective onto a slightly new trajectory.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari gets 5 out of 5.
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