Harari’s brick of a book is an ambitious look at the history of humankind. He begins with humans as one of many Homo species and continues through to the tech age, speculating on the android evolution that may one day replace us. In between he divides sections up based on the major shifts that moved humans forward, focusing on themes like farming, religion and capitalism.
Although there was a lot in this book that I vaguely knew, Harari’s blunt birds eye view of events gave me a refresher while also putting things in perspective. I want to give Sapiens a special shout out for helping me to refute a college friend’s conspiracy theories. Said friend was pitching silver bars as a solution to the impending apocalypse, on the basis that ‘for all of human history silver has been used as currency’. Thanks to having just read Sapiens I could quickly and easily push back- not true, very culturally specific (cowrie shells anyone?). (Spoiler: he didn’t take well to the challenge, but he also didn’t want to admit he was wrong).
Despite it being informative and interesting, my overall feeling on finishing this book was dejection. Harari’s world view is matter of fact but largely negative- humans are a plague to the planet (ecologically destructive) and any deeper meaning is a story we’ve told ourselves. I don’t disagree, but man is it depressing to see it laid out that way. Harari has written a follow up to Sapiens, Homo Deus, that builds off of the last chapters of Sapiens by looking at humanity’s future. Based on Harari’s view of shortcomings to date, I’m curious as to how optimistic he is for our future (I guess I’ll have to read it and find out…).