My most spoken phrase over the last few months has without a doubt been “have you read Sapiens?”. Time and time again topics broached in this book rear their heads and fling my thoughts back to Harari’s unique and intriguing standpoint on human history; why we are the way we are; and where we’re going.
I’m usually fiction all the way, often finding it more difficult ‘getting into’ a factual history book in the same way I would fantasy. But here’s where Sapiens really stood out from the crowd for me. Being the first non-fiction book I’ve read in a while, I was extremely hopeful that this wasn’t another list of facts that would bore me before reaching the second chapter. I was pleasantly surprised!
The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once humans realized how little they knew about the world, they suddenly had a very good reason to seek new knowledge, which opened up the scientific road to progress.
Right from the first page Harari launches into an incredibly vibrant history of the human race, pouring out anecdotes and snippets of our past that were entirely new and wholly fascinating to me. What happened to homo erectus and our fellow humanoids; why human babies are born so inexplicably primitive compared to other species; where money came from and why it works on such a huge scale… Harari’s knowledge is boundless and his speculations so convincing I was reading them as gospel.
In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. […] In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.
Sapiens demonstrates how our history isn’t as straightforward and linear as we might have thought. According to Harari, we haven’t sat merrily on an upward trajectory since the dawn of the human race carrying us to where we are now – with life better than it has ever been. The agricultural revolution wasn’t necessarily for the better, and our battle for supremacy a bloody one.
Nevertheless, the history of the human race is captivating. The steps we’ve taken to become the complex beings we are today are beyond belief and imagination. The creation of religion, the development of imagination and the building of trust between individuals and societies has led us to achieve incredible things. Harari recounts an unfathomable variety of histories, each as confounding as the next – so prepare yourself for an epic journey.
Harari doesn’t shy away from harsh truths and makes some pretty controversial statements on a lot of topics, making Sapiens a massive breath of fresh air. By knowing where we’ve come from we can try to not make the same mistakes, and broaden our horizons to find happiness and contentment.
A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible hardship no matter how comfortable it is.