I generally prefer fiction to non-fiction, with some notable exceptions. I’m a superficial reader; I don’t tend to spend much time reflecting on what I just read, so unless a non-fiction book hits an emotional or personal note for me, it’s not likely to interest me as much as a good novel or short story. For that reason, I never would have picked up Sapiens, had it not been for my work book club.
The first half of the book was quite interesting, covering a lot of ground about species that came before Homo Sapiens, but in the second half the writer’s opinions became a bit more obvious, and I didn’t always agree with those.
For instance, Harari makes the point that most of us think that the 21st century is a good time to be alive, since poverty levels are significantly lower than in historic periods, and a lot of diseases have been eradicated, extending the average lifespan. But, he says, maybe people in previous centuries were just as happy as we are now, owing in large part to the strong communities they tended to belong to, and which provided for everything they needed. That’s an interesting thought, but it immediately raised my feminist hackles, as I think on average women are much better off in the 21st century than they were in all the centuries that came before it. More and more women can make their own decisions around whether or not they want to have children, who, if anyone, they want to be in a relationship with, and generally have a lot more agency in their lives.
And while Harari spent some time explaining how European nations grew their wealth, power and standard of living through the subjugation of other nations, he provided no insights into the ramifications of that today. (I guess you have to buy the second book in this trilogy to find out about that?)
All in all it is an ambitious book, and he does a good job of explaining how different forces such as agriculture, religion, and capitalism combined to shape the world at various stages. If you’d like to read an accessible Social Sciences 101 book, this is a good choice