There is so much in this book. It’s about history, science, the environment, religion, politics, philosophy, economics, and what the future might look like. No matter what your interests, there will be something in Sapiens for you.
I kind of want to subtitle Sapiens “humans are the worst,” because damn we’re terrible. Every time we moved to new land mass extinctions took place, and random chance has caused one set of people to dominate another yet we ascribe it to some kind of divine right. But the book isn’t all negative, and explains, from our early origins, why we act the way we do. And it’s absolutely fascinating.
Even though he never uses the first person, you can infer some of Harari’s personal opinions. I liked that there were moments when they grated, because it made me examine why I believe something, and if that belief holds up. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. And that’s partly what’s so great about Sapiens – it’s not just interesting from an educational standpoint, but also so full of passion and philosophy that it’s also challenging.
I didn’t read it all in one go, and picked up other books and comics in between, as there is a shift in the type of content from the early history to more modern history. Just by the fact I knew less about early history that section was more interesting, but I liked how aspects of modernity completely alien to early sapiens were clearly linked to them, for example in the way we tell fictions to create society.
In the back of my edition there’s a Q & A with Harari, in which he’s asked if living in Israel influences the way he tells history. He said:
I suppose so. The world looks different from Jerusalem than from London or Beijing, and if I lived in London or Beijing I would probably have written a different book.
He goes on to talk a little about what living in the Middle East makes him more aware of, but I think just this quote is so important. A lot of the resistance to consciously diversifying the available literature says it’s ‘diversity for diversity’s sake’ and ‘I just read what’s good without paying attention to the author’. But it’s neither of those things. The world looks different from different bodies and different places, so if you don’t read diversely, you mistake homogeneity for realism, and miss out on so much.
Very easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly readable, interesting, and challenging. Can’t recommend it enough.