Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (Book Review)

Where to start with this fantastic book?

If you’re looking for a quick, easy read, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is not for you. I say that not because the book is particularly arduous. In fact, given the relatively complex and profound subject matter, the book is surprisingly easy to digest.

Instead, I say it because Sapiens is a book that deserves to be savoured and pondered over. Every page contains fresh ideas and perspectives on complex themes.

The book centres on three key points in homo sapiens’ history: the cognitive revolution (around 70,000 years ago), the agricultural revolution (around 12,000 years ago) and the scientific revolution (around 500 years ago).

By examining the sweeping changes brought to the lives of homo sapiens during and between each of these ages, Harari presents a coherent explanation of our history. Of course, in less than 500 pages, no author can provide a complete history of humankind, which is (explicitly) not what Harari aims to do.

What the author does do—and remarkably well—is provide insightful ideas and answers to some of the most arresting questions about our history, our ancestry and the world we now inhabit. If you’ve ever wondered why a once unremarkable member of the Great Apes family now rules the world, this book is for you. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the other human species, this book is for you. And if you’ve ever paused, taken a look around you and wondered how modern society came to be what it is today, this book is for you.

Or, to quote some of Harari’s own questions:

What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion?

It won’t give you conclusive answers to all of life’s big questions, but this immensely readable book will certainly provide different insights and angles and the fuel to get you thinking.

Harari’s next book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow promises to be just as exhilarating as Sapiens, and it’s high on my reading list for this year.


Note: Harari also translated the book into an accessible online course. It’s available on YouTube here.


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