In Sapiens, Yuval Harari delves into the history of humankind.
2.5 million years ago, the first humans appeared in East Africa. However, these humans were not Homo sapiens, which is what all humans today are. In fact, there were several species of humans.
This may sound strange to us, but think about it like this: There are different species of canines: wolves, coyotes, jackals, dingoes, and dogs. Why are humans any different? Just some of the human species were the Homo rudolfensis in East Africa, Homo erectus in East Asia, and Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and western Asia. All human species trace their lineage back to an early genus of apes called Australopithecus. This is why our closest living relatives include chimpanzees and gorillas.
Harari offers some theories as to why humans evolved to be much more intelligent than other animals, and how we have come to dominate them. At one point, there was nothing special about humans. Harari argues that there were three major events that changed human lives forever. First, there was the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago, which constituted new ways of thinking and communicating. Some believe the Cognitive Revolution gave Homo sapiens the capacity to drive other human species to extinction. The Agricultural Revolution occurred 10,000 years ago. It transformed humans from hunter-gatherers to farmers and keepers of livestock. Finally, the Scientific Revolution occurred only 500 years ago, which gave humans unprecedented power.
The author also discusses the history of several institutions and concepts unique to humans, such as religion, money, law, and capitalism. He also describes the effect people have had on other animals. Not only did Homo sapiens likely drive other human species to extinction, they also eradicated countless other animal species.
Harari ends the book looking to the future, and encouraging readers to wonder what might become of Homo sapiens. How will technology continue to impact humans? At one point, will we evolve into an entirely different species?
I found Sapiens captivating. I never thought I would enjoy reading about history so much. Clearly, it is difficult to fit the history of humankind into a relatively concise book. However, Harari managed to do so, and he did an incredibly good job of it. He included several topics that are crucial in understanding human history, and he discussed each topic concisely. In addition, he explained matters in an uncomplicated way. I also loved that the book had pictures. It made it easier to visualize what the author was describing. If you’re looking for something about history, but don’t want to feel like you’re reading a textbook, this is the book for you.