Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sapiens is a very interesting book – and one which everyone must read. Where it scores is in it's frank and insightful narrative, which calls out without hesitation what we homosapiens are good at and where are going wrong.
Homosapiens (us) are the only human species who survived. We reached all corners of the Earth and have developed enormous power – and yet at a huge cost. The evidence suggests that we were responsible for the extinction of many life forms such as the mammoth. I was very surprised by the author's comments around the agricultural revolution. One would have assumed this helped organize the way we lived and ensured we got food where we were, instead of travelling far and wide for it. He makes good points to suggest that this made the farmers busier, made them weaker, more prone to disease and also heightened the risk in case of crop failure.
The surmise around stories which bind us is very insightful. The reason Sapiens collect in large groups is because they bind themselves with myths and stories – around history, religion, nationhood etc. This allowed people who are strangers otherwise to get together and later form large communities and cities. Some of the matter is obviously speculative (eg: Aryan invasion of India is disputed by many historians), but then that is the best one can do in retracing history.
The central sections around how capitalism grew, and the concept of money are too detailed and can get a little tiring. The book nevertheless returns to some excellent passages around our delusions, ambition and happiness. All of us have our own delusions, nor have we given up our destructive tendencies since ages. For instance, we have scientific confirmation that animals have physical as well as psychological needs – and yet we deny them that. Animal farming is one of the most cruel acts we engage in, but refuse to acknowledge or introspect.
We do more and more, but are never satisfied and are not happy. He opines that the insights Buddhism provides around our suffering due to our tendency to crave is reality. The book ends with sentences which certainly need to provoke us to think. We are gaining more and more power – we will successfully increase our lifespans further or even defeat natural death. Yet, we do not know what we want and continue to inflict misery on fellow animals and the ecosystem for our comfort and even worse pleasure. Can we learn?
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