Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BookMarks #25 - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Published: 2011 (in Hebrew), 2014 (in English)

As the title suggests, the book is a tale of the history of humankind from the time when there were multiple homo species existing simultaneously on the planet, to the modern times when a single Homo Sapiens species rules above all. The book looks at the key events which have shaped the evolution of the Sapiens to its current state. Harari identifies evolving imagination, the agriculture revolution, rise of empires and scientific revolution as the key events which molded history into its current shape. The book ends with an imaginary glimpse into what the future could hold.

As you read, the book makes you feel guilty for being a member of the homo sapiens species. In the initial chapters, Harari lists out (in a very dramatic way), how the homo sapiens conquered the other homo species and also dramatically impacted the life of all other species on this planet (mostly for bad). How the basic balance of a world changed once the sapiens entered that realm. Also, bringing us to Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest. Thus most large animals have become extinct and only the smaller members of each species survives.

Another key message which comes out, is the collective imagination of the human kind. The world runs on the figment of our collective imagination. All the religious beliefs, the big (and small) companies, the governance setup, they all exist only in our collective imagination and are not some act of nature. A concept which is a bit difficult to digest, but once you mull over it, easy to get around to. 

Also, some of our revolutions may have actually had an adverse impact on the future. Harari cites the case of agricultural revolution, which he says actually created more trouble in the long run, by tying up people to a single place. And making them do more work for securing a food supply.

Another theory which Harari presents is that while the current humankind has more collective knowledge than their predecessors, the common sapiens member of the earlier time had probably more knowledge with them than the current sapiens member. They certainly had less needs and had all the basic knowledge for survival.

As Harari says - imagination and story-telling, concept of money, the written script, a uniform concept of time, an increased belief in science – all these are the key factors which have shaped the world as we know today. The book presents history of humankind in a way different than the political one which we generally read. There are many conjectures based around Harari’s own theories. But he does present them in an engaging manner.

Previously on BookMarks – Life After War

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